by Ben Muth
Welcome back to the final section of the Word of Muth 2013 season preview. We’ve already looked at what’s ahead for the Cowboys and Bengals this year, which means the last team we have left to preview is the Philadelphia Eagles.
Why They Were Chosen
For the first time in Word of Muth history, a team was chosen solely because of their coach. Chip Kelly’s offense was probably the most-covered topic in the offseason that didn’t involve a former Florida Gator, and I’m buying into the hype. Kelly’s Oregon offenses finished in the top 6 in rushing yards per game every year from 2008 through 2012. In 2007 the Ducks finished ... seventh. I like watching teams that run the ball and do it creatively.
I’m not saying the Eagles will immediately become an offensive juggernaut, but I do think they are going to be committed to running the football. Not only that, but I think they are going to do it well. I don’t know exactly what their run game will look like -- I’m anxious to see how new offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland combines Alabama’s run game with Kelly’s Oregon concepts -- but I’m confident the Eagles are going to run it, and run it a lot. And that was enough for me to take a long look at them.
What I’m Most Looking Forward To
Aside from seeing how Kelly’s offense interacts with the NFL, the player I’m most looking forward to watching is Evan Mathis. Mathis is one of those guys with a big reputation that I haven’t really watched much of. His absence on my radar comes from a combination of always focusing on Jason Peters and never watching the Eagles last year. So it was nice being able to hone in on him in the few games I watched to get ready for this piece.
My immediate reaction is that he’s not as dominating as I thought he might be, but he’s a really effective player. When I think of dominating guards, I’m thinking of guys like Mike Iupati and Carl Nicks pre-injury: There are plays where those guys look like Godzilla and defensive tackles are just styrofoam sky scrapers. Mathis never unleashes destruction like that, but he didn’t get beat cleanly in the few games I watched.
While Mathis doesn’t have the overwhelming strength of an Iupati, he looks more consistent because of two things: balance and tenacity. For the most part, everyone plays hard in the NFL, so when someone’s effort really stands out, I consider it a skill just like speed or strength. Mathis is one of those guys.
But effort alone doesn’t make you an All-Pro and I think the physical tool that Mathis excels at is his balance. A lot of it comes from solid footwork, but some of it is just a natural, innate sense of equilibrium. Mathis has a knack for coming off a double team and somehow immediately twisting his body and flipping his hips to square up a linebacker at the second level. He also redirects in pass protection exceptionally well and always seems perfectly centered. I’m interested to watch him more as the season progresses. He seems like the kind of player that will grow on you the more you watch him.
What I’m Worried About
Before tearing his Achilles tendon, Jason Peters was one of my favorite offensive linemen to watch. He was a great athlete, which made him a very solid pass protector, but he also played a little more physical than a lot of the other elite left tackles. He was someone I always went out of my way to watch, and someone I missed seeing last year. I’m nervous that he’s not going to be anywhere near the same player and that he will be tough to watch for an entire season if he’s a husk of his former self.
Just in case he isn’t the same, I do want to highlight a play from when many considered him the very best lineman in the game.
It’s just a simple sprint draw play that the Eagles used to run pretty frequently. The Eagles are a little out-numbered at the point of attack here, but they have a plan for it: They are just going to have Peters block two guys.
Let me repeat that. This entire play is based on the concept that your left tackle will block two guys. The Eagles coaching staff had so much faith in Peters that they decided to install and run a play where Jason Peters had to block two guys.
A little of this is misdirection in the sense that Peters just has to pass set the defensive end for a second, before climbing to the linebackers. The goal is that the defensive end will sort of block himself, once he sees the pass set combined with Michael Vick’s sprintout action, by rushing up field to keep contain. Above you can see how the end does do about 40 percent of that, but Peters is the one that shotputs the NFL defensive end to the ground with one hand when he decides it’s time to climb to his second assigment.
Again, you can see above that the end initially ran right into Peters’ chest. That forced Peters to stay with the block a little longer, which made him late getting to Lance Briggs at the second level. It may seem odd that I’m highlighting a play where Peters technically missed his assignment, but there are extenuating circumstances here. Such as the fact that his assignment was to block two NFL players.
Luckily, LeSean McCoy (also very good) makes Briggs miss and gives Peters a chance to redeem himself. Peters realizes he can’t get to Briggs and immediately accelerates to the third level. When he gets there he lowers the boom on Chris Conte and sends him stumbling back like a drunken sailor on pay day.
So on this play, Jason Peters pass sets a couple yards deep, stoned a bull rush and threw the rusher to the ground, climbed to about 10 yards down the field (a long way for an offensive lineman), and finally tracked and knocked the heck out of a safety in wide open space. If we’re going by boxing rules for the hit on Conte, Peters had two knockdowns on a single play with a dozen yards of space in between. That doesn’t happen in high school, much less the NFL.
I doubt Peters will make it back to that level, but I’m really hoping he can get back to 85 percent of what he was. If he can do that, I’m excited about this Eagles line.