Eagles All-22 Wake-Up Call: O-Line Inconsistency

Why the Eagles' offensive line struggled on Sunday after their best stretch of the season.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

The offensive line was rolling. They paved the way for a rushing attack that gained more than 150 yards in four straight weeks — the first time the Eagles did so since 1992 — and provided sound pass protection.

Before Sunday, the Dolphins ranked second-to-last in run defense (allowing 142 yards per game), leading many people to believe the Eagles would dominate the ground game.

However, the opposite happened on Sunday, and Philadelphia averaged just 2.3 yards per carry in their 20-19 loss. Miami recorded four sacks, nine tackles-for-loss and 10 quarterback hits. Sam Bradford constantly took shots from the Dolphins’ defensive line, and he eventually suffered both a concussion and an injured left shoulder in the third quarter.

“We’re frustrated,” Jason Kelce said. “I think we let a game get away from us, and I think everybody knows that. Offensively, we had so many opportunities, and let every single one of them slip through our fingers, it seems like. But I think everyone else knows that we can improve, and if we can eliminate these self-inflicting things, we can still be a dynamic offense.”

Although the Eagles had some success moving the ball, they were inconsistent and sometimes did so despite the offensive line. They gained an average of 60 yards per drive in the first quarter, but that number dropped to less than 25 in the final three quarters.

“Early on we did a good job,” Pat Shurmur said. “We got rolling, we got positive plays, and you can see what happens when — we had some explosive plays, and we got points out of it. I think as we went through the game, if you look, we had some penalties and probably bad plays within a series that kind of stalls you out from doing all the things that we can do when we stay on schedule.”

‘I SCREWED UP’

The Eagles jumped out to a 16-3 lead so quickly in the first quarter that it appeared they were going to blow the Dolphins out. But in last three quarters, they scored just three points, and Ndamukong Suh was a big reason why.

“When he wants to go, he’s about as good as they get, and he is a guy that turns it off and on,” Kelce said. “I think their defense was kind of embarrassed [with how] the game before went, and how many rushing yards and everything, so they came out really fired up.

“We put 16 up on them right away, and then, I think, really what happened was, we started making mistakes, took our foot off the gas a little bit with the penalties and stuff like that. They kind of get some momentum, and he definitely turned it on there in the middle of the game.”

Suh recorded three quarterback hits and a season-high three tackles-for-loss. According to Kelce, Suh “turned it on” and adjusted his tactics after one good block Kelce and Matt Tobin got him on.

“We threw him out of there pretty hard,” Kelce said. “And after that, it seemed like he hunkered down in there and stopped flowing. He’s really not much of a flow-er, regardless. I don’t know how much of a difference it honestly made, but he definitely played that block differently throughout the rest of the game.”

Suh’s penetration constantly disrupted plays, and he said after the game he was focused on being aggressive. That was especially evident when he tackled DeMarco Murray for a 3-yard loss in the beginning of the fourth quarter.

On 1st-and-10 at Miami’s 46-yard line, the Eagles ran an inside zone. Suh, however, quickly shed Kelce and wrapped up Murray before the running back could reach daylight.

“I overrun him, and then I’m trying to circle back, and that goes down to technique more than anything,” Kelce said. “That goes down to going down the middle of him, because he’s not a guy that will react with you. He’s a guy who’s going to penetrate.

“We’ve talked about these different styles of defensive linemen. Now, to penetrate, you want to make sure you stop the penetration, because he’s not going to react to the play, so it’s going to be an easy reach block. I tried to overdo it, because he was in a different alignment, and I thought he was going to react more with the guard. He didn’t.”

Earlier in the game during the second quarter, Suh got in the backfield to tackle Darren Sproles for a 4-yard loss. Kelce and Tobin were engaged in a mate block on Suh, but the defensive tackle slipped through. The Eagles had to punt two plays later.

“I told Tobin, ‘I’m going to go a little harder and try to knock him on top of you,'” Kelce said. “I go hard on that play, and I end up going past Ndamukong Suh, and he ends up clubbing past me and making a play in the backfield.

“There’s situations like that where, instead of trying to do more, just go back to the basic fundamentals, go back to the basic steps, how to surface blocks. Don’t try to overdo it, just make sure you block the guy, and you get the chance to play and get started.”

According to Dennis Kelly, Suh also picked up on the Eagles’ communication. The right tackle said Suh sometimes knew how the offensive line was going to try to block him before the ball was even snapped.

“We had some success against him early in the game, but he got into a rhythm of what we were doing against him,” Kelly said. “So he was kind of playing off of that and he just adjusted on hearing our calls. He kind of picked up on what we were doing a little bit and was able to run away from double-teams.”

Although a few offensive line said their chemistry is fine and their lack of success Sunday lied mostly in failing to execute, there was one play Suh was unblocked. He went upfield in between Tobin and Kelly, but both of them went to the second level to block linebackers.

Because of that, Suh tackled Ryan Mathews for a 5-yard loss on 1st-and-10.

“I screwed up,” Kelly said. “I said the wrong thing. Matt did what I said and I thought I said what I wanted to. I just misspoke.”

THE CENTER OF THE PROBLEM

Kelce didn’t want to talk to reporters after Philadelphia fell to Miami at home, but he did say his performance against the Dolphins was the worst game of his career. He admitted yesterday he overstated how poorly he played — he did have several good blocks, including Mathews’ touchdown run — but he explained he was frustrated in part because of how important his play is for the rest of the offensive line, and how he played a big role in their loss.

“Really, up front, we tend to play our best games when I’m not making mistakes,” Kelce said. “I know that’s a very selfish way to look at things, but I think that, when I take care of my things and I’m a calm, cool, collected guy in the middle, I think other guys feed off of that. And I think when I’m collected and I’m not making mistakes, Lane Johnson tends to play better, he doesn’t make as many mistakes, and it goes down the board.

“When I tend to make everybody comfortable, those mistakes don’t happen usually. Then Lane Johnson isn’t going off the reservation in a set, or something like that. It prevents guys from feeling uncomfortable, which prevents guys from falling loose with their technique.”

Kelce is a smart guy, and it’s clear he understands how he didn’t play his technique well when he makes mistakes. But if that’s the case, why is he playing nowhere near the caliber we’ve seen from the Pro Bowler in the past?

He was asked yesterday if it has to do with his health.

“I’m more mobile than I’ve been in the past, honestly. I think I’m in probably the best shape of my career,” Kelce said. “I’m fine. All that stuff’s not the issue. I really don’t think that I’m physically under-performing that much this year. I really don’t think so. I think that most of my mistakes are mental mistakes, are mistakes with the penalties, with the snaps.”

Kelce’s self-assessment — as usual — is correct. He leads the NFL in penalties among centers, while Johnson ranks second among offensive tackles. As a team, the Eagles rank 8th in the NFL in both false starts and holding and the offense has committed more than twice as many penalties than the defense.

On Sunday, the Eagles committed seven penalties that were accepted for 54 yards. Kelce was called for holding twice, including one on a 3-yard run that would’ve given the Eagles a 3rd-and-6 near midfield. Instead, Philadelphia faced 2nd-and-19 from their 32-yard line and punted two plays later.

“If you look at one of my holding calls, and one of Lane Johnson’s holding calls, we stop our feet and we throw our guy,” Kelce said. “We feel them off balance, so we know that we can get them on the ground.

“When you stop your feet and you throw him, then it looks like you’re torquing him, whereas — it’s okay if you feel him off balance and you want to move him like that, but if you keep your feet moving, then it looks like you’re driving him. I think that any time an official sees your feet still and you’re torquing a guy, there’s a very good chance you’re going to get called for a holding penalty.”

After explaining why he got called for holding, Kelce continued to face reporters yesterday until no one had any more questions. He spoke for more than 16 minutes, longer than any other player, and didn’t deflect blame.

But the back-and-forth was similar to previous conversations the media has had with him this season about his struggles, and for as many answers as he’s had, he doesn’t have the most important one: Why haven’t you fixed it yet?

“Sometimes, I’m trying to do too much, and sometimes I think we’re over-coaching things — and not by [offensive line coach Jeff] Stout[land], or Chip [Kelly]’s methods, but I mean between the players, we’re over-coaching things during the game,” Kelce said. “Those things have really killed me, the mental mistakes, the technical mistakes, and they’re things that you can fix, but things that we haven’t fixed yet — or we have, in some games, but we haven’t as an overall game-in, game-out. We’ve just made the same mistakes.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Key plays: Examining every touchdown and turnover from the Eagles’ loss.

“It was kind of messed up.” Lane Johnson on Sunday’s pregame confusion.

Jason Peters practiced, Sam Bradford sat out, and more injury updates from Tuesday.

“I don’t expect Nick to like it.” Nick Foles is benched, and other updates on departed Eagles.

T-Mac took a closer look at Chip Kelly’s take on the Birds’ lack of outside wide receiver production.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Whether or not it was on purpose, Chip Kelly embraced the idea on Monday that the Eagles are simply an average team, writes John Gonzalez.

“With the exception of about four or five teams right now, I think everyone is doing the same thing,” Kelly said. “You look one week and they look like gangbusters and then the next week it’s not so much. Green Bay went out and won six straight and now they’ve lost three straight. But that’s what we try to preach all the time. There’s not any game changing or turning points in the season.”

Fantastic. Look at that quote. I wanted to high-five him afterward and thank him for writing this column.

The abridged, paraphrased version goes like this: We stink week-to-week but so does pretty much everyone else.

The Daily News staff examined Chip as a general manager, and Les Bowen has been less than impressed thus far.

Sam Bradford, the injury-question quarterback Chip traded for, was hurt in that ridiculous loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, though the hit Bradford took would have disabled any quarterback in football.

Bradford went down because of GM Chip’s worst offseason miscalculation, his handling of the offensive line. Kelly looked at a line that crumbled last season because of injury and age and decided he needed to get rid of his two veteran guards, Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis, but he did nothing to replace them, in the draft or through free agency. In the most inexplicable decision of the offseason, he waited to cut Mathis until free agency and the draft were over, when he knew no help was coming.

The Eagles genuinely thought Allen Barbre and either Matt Tobin or Andrew Gardner would be just fine flanking Jason Kelce. Any brain trust that could come into a season with that notion – you have to question every personnel decision they make.

COMING UP

Chip Kelly will address the media at 10:50 a.m.


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