OL Review: Eagles Try Something New On Offense

During the bye week, Andy Reid said multiple times that he was evaluating everything.

On defense, that meant changing coordinators. But considering Marty Mornhinweg kept play-calling duties and Michael Vick remained the starting quarterback, what would it mean offensively?

That was one of the questions going into Sunday’s game. And while the offense only produced 17 points, Reid and Mornhinweg actually made some drastic changes.

Ok, perhaps “drastic” isn’t the right word, because this has been a gradual process. It started after the Cardinals game. That’s when the coaching staff realized running a big-play offense with this line was unrealistic. We saw more balance, shorter routes, and more options against the blitz when the Eagles faced the Giants, Steelers and Lions. But there were still plenty of “shot” plays downfield – sometimes at inopportune times.

After all, this team still has weapons who can get downfield in DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. Coaches have continuously said defenses are taking away the deep ball. That’s true sometimes. But the Eagles have had plenty of opportunities through seven games to hit on those plays. The main issues? Protection hasn’t held up, and Vick hasn’t taken advantage – either by not pulling the trigger or simply missing with his throws.

Against the Falcons, there were no deep attempts. As in zero. Not a single pass thrown more than 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. The game-plan focused on short and intermediate throws. Get the ball out of Vick’s hands quickly. Give the offensive line a chance to succeed. Provide options against the blitz. Achieve balance with the run and the pass.

In many ways, it was the exact game-plan fans had been asking for. But there was a problem. The Eagles got down early, and they just don’t execute at a high-enough level for this kind of offense to succeed. The issues were particularly glaring in a couple instances. After the Falcons strung together a 16-play, 80-yard drive, the Eagles went three-and-out. But it wasn’t just that, they failed to gain a single yard on those three plays: incompletion, LeSean McCoy run for -1 yards and sack for a loss of 2.

Late in the game, after many had fled the Linc, and many more had changed the channel, the Eagles took over at their own 35. They were down, 30-17, and there was 5:24 left in the game. In the NFL, 13 points is not an insurmountable deficit. Just a couple weeks ago, the Lions were down two scores with 5:18 left and beat the Eagles. In this one, the Birds even had two timeouts.

But the pieces on offense just don’t fit. The line can’t protect long enough to hit on big plays, and the skill-position players can’t execute well enough to consistently sustain drives. The Eagles got the ball back with 5:24 left, and again with 3:42 left. They ran a total of nine plays for 5 yards on those two drives. Let me repeat that: NINE PLAYS FOR 5 YARDS.

When they needed to score quickly – something that was a hallmark of this team in the past – the offense couldn’t get it done. What’s unclear is how many times the Eagles actually had chances to hit on big plays and didn’t execute. We’ll chime in on that once the All-22 is released.

We can discuss at length what kind of offense the Eagles should be running, but the truth is, given the personnel, there probably is no right solution. That’s just the reality after seven games.

Having said all that, here’s the player-by-player game review of the offensive line:

King Dunlap – Given what I detailed above, the offensive line was put in a pretty good position to be successful in this game. And I actually thought Howard Mudd’s guys were OK. This was far from their worst performance of the season. Dunlap performed at a much higher level than Demetress Bell. I didn’t notice him giving up a hit on Vick all game. He showed good athleticism getting out in front and blocking the safety on the 12-yard screen to Maclin in the second. And he did a good job picking up a blitzer on Vick’s 12-yard completion to Jackson in the third. Overall, solid job in protection.

Evan Mathis – Let’s start with the good. Nice job getting to the safety on the 12-yard screen to Maclin in the second. Good block on LeSean McCoy’s 7-yard run in the second. Good block on the linebacker on another 7-yard McCoy run. And really nice job on Jonathan Babineaux on McCoy’s 10-yard run in the fourth. The issues? Linebacker Stephen Nicholas blitzed between him and Dallas Reynolds on a third down in the second. The Falcons showed seven at the line of scrimmage, and no one picked up Nicholas, who hit Vick right after he released the ball. Not sure whose fault it was, but there was clearly a breakdown somewhere. Later, the Falcons sent a delayed blitz through the A-Gap, and Sean Weatherspoon rushed untouched, leading to a sack. It looked like Mathis could have picked him up, although perhaps he thought McCoy was back there in protection. Overall, though, I thought Mathis played a good game.

Dallas Reynolds – There are times when Reynolds looks like he can be a competent center. And other times when his miscues lead to negative plays. For example, Babineaux beat him badly on the early McCoy run that lost a yard. He couldn’t quite get to the linebacker on McCoy’s 4-yard run in the fourth. He pulled, but couldn’t block the linebacker on McCoy’s fourth-quarter run that lost a yard. And Reynolds was beaten badly by Peria Jerry, who jumped in the backfield on McCoy’s fourth-quarter run that picked up 3. He had trouble with Corey Peters on McCoy’s run that lost 3 yards in the fourth. But again, there were good moments. Reynolds did a nice job pulling and getting to the linebacker on a 7-yard McCoy run in the second. He got to the linebacker again on another 7-yard McCoy run. Nice job on the Vick QB draw that picked up a first. And good hustle to take out Babineaux on the 11-yard screen to McCoy in the fourth. Reynolds delivered a good block on McCoy’s 10-yard run in the fourth. And again on the 7-yard touchdown to McCoy.

Dennis Kelly – He had a couple issues, but overall, I thought the rookie played well. He did a decent job handling a stunt and picking up John Abraham on a 7-yard Vick run in the second. Kelly did a nice job of switching off the DT and on to the blitzing linebacker in the fourth. And he did well in pass protection on the 10-yard completion to Maclin in the fourth. The issues? He failed to pick up a blitzer on a third-down play in the red zone in the third, and Weatherspoon hit Vick, helping to force an incompletion. The Eagles gambled on the play, though, going with an empty backfield and five receivers in pass routes, so that one might have been on the quarterback partially too. Later, it looked like Kelly missed his block on the linebacker as McCoy lost 3 yards. I don’t want to get carried away and say he’s definitely a better option than Watkins because, again, the linemen were not asked to hold their blocks very long in this game. There was a lot of dink-and-dunk that called on receivers to pick up yards after the catch. But Kelly looked comfortable, and other than a few issues, seemed to know what he was doing out there.

Todd Herremans – An up-and-down game for Herremans. There have been too many of those this year for the veteran. Good block on McCoy’s 7-yard run in the second. And again on McCoy’s 4-yard run in the fourth. Nice trap block on McCoy’s 10-yard run. And good job in protection, one-on-one, on Vick’s 16-yard completion to Celek. Jerry got past him on the play-action pass in the third, forcing Vick to run (although it looked like he could have stepped up). Herremans had some trouble with Kroy Biermann on Vick’s third-down incompletion in the red zone in the third. Abraham beat him on McCoy’s fourth-quarter run that picked up 3. He got beaten off the edge by Biermann for a sack in the fourth. And Herremans was called for a holding penalty against Abraham. Like I said, inconsistent performance in this one.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.