Eagles Offensive Line Nearly Flawless Against Commanders

Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Line
Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Line
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 4 - The Philadelphia Eagles clobbered the Washington Commanders last Sunday to move to 3-0 on the season. Some might be surprised by the Eagles' fast start—no one who read Football Outsiders Almanac 2022, but some others might. The Eagles have absolutely looked like one of the best teams in the league through three weeks.

A lot of praise has gone to the quarterback Jalen Hurts and the receiving corps led by A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith—and deservedly so, they have been great. But the offensive line has been just as good as Philadelphia's skill talent. The offense has really been clicking on all cylinders.

This is just tremendous work by the five guys up front for Philly. They're going empty protection and the Commanders are bringing five, so everyone up front has to be on the same page. The left side of the line has the more difficult job as they are passing off a stunt, but they make it look easy. Look at how left tackle Jordan Mailata is moving around the field. Good hard kick-step outside, fluid redirect when he sees the furthest rusher dropping, then picks up the looper (Cole Holcomb, 55) coming around outside and delivers a good punch with his hands. Mailata is gliding out there.

Lane Johnson at the other tackle (blocking Darrick Forrest, 22) also looks incredibly smooth in his pass set. He looked so quick but in control in the passing game all day. I had high hopes for watching him because of his reputation, and he certainly lived up to that hype in this one. Just a high-level pro.

Really, everyone here is very good. If you want to see how big plays happen in the passing game, this is it. When the defense sends five against an empty set and your offensive line absolutely stonewalls them, there are going to be open receivers down the field.

This is another nice blitz pickup. I know the Commanders get a bit of pressure on Hurts here, but they're also bringing one more than the Eagles can block with a Cover-0 blitz. So there was always going to be pressure. The free rusher (Holcomb, 55) is the guy that adds on late once he sees the running back blocking and that's all you can ask from an offensive line against this type of pressure.

Johnson is again a standout here. Great initial set, stays in control as he engages with his hands, and finally just sits down and stops the rusher (Shaka Toney, 58) in his tracks. Mailata is also solid though he gets snatched down late.

The only guy up front for Philly that gets beat a little quicker than you want is right guard Isaac Seumalo, and that was the trend for most of the game. I don't think Seumalo played poorly or anything, but he probably had the weakest game of a front five that played very well in general. Here he has a tough job though; he has to block a wide 3-technique (Daron Payne, 94) who stunts all the way across the ball with no help, and he gives up late pressure.

This time it's not a blitz, but I once again wanted to highlight both tackles. We'll start with Mailata (68), who has to slide down on a hard inside counter move. What surprises and impresses me is the fluidity of the movement for someone who weighs 365 pounds. The part I'm not surprised about is how strong his hands look. He's engaging the defensive end away from his frame, reaching across his body, and you can still see him jolt the rusher and keep him from penetrating up the field. That takes a lot of natural grown-man strength.

Johnson (65) had a few reps where it felt like he might get pushed too far into the pocket on a bull rush, but he always seemed to anchor just when he needed to. He doesn't get much of a punch here, which is a big part of why he gives ground initially, but look at him arch that back and lock his hips out to bow up and stop the rush in time for Hurts to deliver the deep throw.

Left guard Landon Dickerson (69) also does a nice job here, but I actually want to highlight him on a different play.

Again, this is great protection from everyone up front for the Eagles, but let's start with Dickerson. It all starts with how he comes down the line of scrimmage square even though he has to get nose-to-nose with a shaded nose tackle (Jonathan Allen, 93) aligned inside. He doesn't turn and run, he slides down with his shoulders parallel to the line. That allows him to redirect when the defender tries to cross his face. Look at his wide base as he shuffles to his outside with the defender. He also has that good powerful arch posture in his back like Johnson did on the last GIF so he can play with some strain and power. Outstanding rep of pass protection.

The tackles once again are great here, and I can't overstate how well I thought Philadelphia pass protected last week. Like I said at the top, the Eagles skill players all made plays, but the offensive line playing the way they did was just as big as anything Hurts and his receivers did.

Here the big guys are once again setting the stage for the skill guys to make a play. This is a well-designed tight end screen. The Eagles show some motion, then fake the dart run to the right, pulling the tackle, and drop it off to the tight end (Dallas Goedert) late. It's well designed, giving the defense plenty of moving parts to sort through, and just as well executed.

The guy to watch is center Jason Kelce. Because the left guard gets caught up with a bull-rushing defensive tackle (Allen, 93), Kelce is the first one out in the screen. That means he's responsible for kicking out the force defender. Because the play is so well designed, though, no one for Washington gets outside the tackle box, so Kelce gets his eyes back inside and picks up the first linebacker (Davis, 52) to recognize the screen. Right guard Seumalo is second out and does a nice job of catching that second linebacker (Holcomb, 55) and getting just enough of him to keep him from making a tackle.

Of course, Goedert still has to make the safety miss for it to be a touchdown instead of a 12-yard gain. Goedert does, and he's another example of the Eagles skill guys making plays when the offensive line sets them up. The end result was a picture-perfect screen play that ended in the end zone.

Comments

19 comments, Last at 01 Oct 2022, 5:30pm

#1 by Pat // Sep 30, 2022 - 10:46am

I know the Commanders get a bit of pressure on Hurts here, but they're also bringing one more than the Eagles can block with a Cover-0 blitz. So there was always going to be pressure. 

I love this comment because it's so common that people don't understand that the QB is part of the protection, too. If 6 guys rush on 5 blockers, the last one's on the QB. You can't block multiple guys (well... unless you're Kelce in the Super Bowl. But I digress).

Yeah, that guy's unblocked, but he was never really a threat: Hurts knew he was there, knew what he had to do, and did it. Just fantastic communication and coordination between the OL and the QB. Which is why I'm super-glad you did this game (although last week's would've been better since you had more run game!) rather than Week 1, which was a lot more chaotic.

Philly's OL's just a joy to watch at this point. It might not last much longer, which is why I'm enjoying every minute of it.

Points: 0

#2 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 30, 2022 - 11:21am

 He doesn't turn and run, he slides down with his shoulders perpendicular to the line.

Parallel to the line. Otherwise great stuff!

Points: 0

#3 by theslothook // Sep 30, 2022 - 11:41am

I'm glad to see articles highlighting when an offensive line is sterling. It feels like the narrative these days is everyone's offensive line sucks.

It's also a fun experiment the Eagles are running. They've added true blue weapons to the offense which paired with their line could have exponential effects. From a team building perspective, we're in the dark about how much adding a wide receiver impacts the offense because it's contingent on so many things.

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#5 by horn // Sep 30, 2022 - 3:00pm

Midnight Green weapons, to be sure.

And rest assured every fan in Philly knows how good this line is. Lane, Kelce, even Issac been doing it for a while, drafted Landon last year, and Mailata's development from a 7th rounder who never even played to a stud future All-Pro has been AMAZING. 

Points: 0

#8 by Pat // Sep 30, 2022 - 3:30pm

Philly fans better know how good they are. We lose Kelce next year and likely Seumalo too, and Johnson will be finishing his career in a few years as well.

It's ridiculous that Lane's basically got no chance of making the Hall. Way, way underappreciated.

Points: 0

#6 by serutan // Sep 30, 2022 - 3:02pm

I'm glad to see articles highlighting when an offensive line is sterling. It feels like the narrative these days is everyone's offensive line sucks.

 

  I agree, but unfortunately a lot of O lines do suck.  I'm not sure if there's any way to prove it conclusively but I suspect that talent dilution caused by a 32 team league plays a nontrivial role.

Points: 0

#9 by theslothook // Sep 30, 2022 - 3:59pm

The thing is, It's not clear to me. We have an objective method that accurately rates offensive line play.

I know PFF does rate individual offense And that's fine and probably in the neighborhood of correct. However, I'll say this once again, context matters and teams that avoid putting their offensive line in lousy situations are going to get the benefit of the doubt from a grade perspective, even if it's out of the direct hands of the offensive line itself.

It's probably an unanswerable question short of AJ Brown and devonte Smith getting hurt, But I'd be curious to see how this offensive line grades if the wide receivers are out and suddenly it becomes much harder to run counters against five-man rushes. 

Maybe someone like Lane Johnson and Kelce are great regardless of what blender situation. You throw them in, but I don't think that applies to 90% of the league.

Points: 0

#11 by Pat // Sep 30, 2022 - 4:19pm

 

Maybe someone like Lane Johnson and Kelce are great regardless of what blender situation. You throw them in, but I don't think that applies to 90% of the league.

How isn't this true of every position? AJ Brown didn't grade well last year, for instance.

Points: 0

#12 by theslothook // Sep 30, 2022 - 4:25pm

It's not, but you don't hear a constant bemoaning of the wide receiver position being worse than it ever was. Or for that matter pass rush.

The only places I hear emphatically that their units stink across the league are the offensive line and the defensive back field, not coincidentally, the two units heavily reliant on individual coordination and team context more broadly and with nebulous grading metrics

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#14 by Pat // Sep 30, 2022 - 6:35pm

It's easier to play wide receiver than ever, though. Tyreek Hill would literally be injured out of the league even 20 years ago.

Not sure about pass rush. There's certainly plenty of complaining that you basically can't pass rush at all anymore thanks to rules changes.

I will say as an Eagles fan I don't really remember the last time I thought they had an actual bad line. I mean, I get upset when they don't have a decent backup tackle or a highly-drafted young rookie waiting to replace a vet. (Edit: badly *planned* line. Obviously injuries happen).

OL's also gotten significantly more expensive overall because the franchise tag doesn't distinguish between OL positions. Top end centers and guards are wacko expensive compared to what they used to be.

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#7 by Tundrapaddy // Sep 30, 2022 - 3:20pm

Year after year, these are the best weekly articles at FO. Thanks again!

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#10 by theslothook // Sep 30, 2022 - 4:02pm

Another takeaway from this article is between this line and the receivers, just how good is Jalen Hurts. 

Pat has suggested that the line quality is enough to turn someone like Nick Foles a backup quarterback into a super bowl MVP. That's probably an extreme characterization of his point, but the general principle holds. Then that's rather a stinging rebuke of Hurts, though I tend to take the opposite view that it starts with the quarterback doing correct things for the rest of the roster to really shine. 

 

Also, score one albeit prematurely for the hiring of Sirianni. Reading the thread on his hire will make you realize that perhaps the unconventional choice isn't so bad.

As an econ graduate, I remain ever fascinated by expectations and how they play out.

Points: 0

#15 by KnotMe // Sep 30, 2022 - 6:45pm

I view football teams kinda like engines. Each part has to do it's job with a minimum amount of competence or nothing works, but at the same time, parts can have flaws and the whole can be fucntional to a degree.  It's when something just totally fails or the flaws happen to line up that you have problems.  Take Cincy: bad(non-jelled) O-Line + QB who likes to hold the ball + scheme not hiding this= disaster till something adapts.  

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#16 by Pat // Sep 30, 2022 - 6:53pm

It's not "Hurts bad, OL good" vs "Hurts good, OL bad." Foles isn't a bad quarterback either, for that matter: he's just a structure QB. Make him move in the pocket or have to compress his timing, and he falls apart. So it's be more like Hurts: information unavailable.

Except that's not really fair because especially in the Lions game things *weren't* going according to plan, and he knew what to do there anyway.

If you're trying to say "we still don't know if Hurts is an elite-level QB even though he's playing like one" - yes, absolutely. But that'll always be a question behind a line like this.

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#17 by theslothook // Sep 30, 2022 - 8:52pm

So I regard Foles As an even worse player than the Carson Wentz, Jared Goff tier of QBs. By that I mean, you put him on a bad team and he will look worse than your backup. In that sense, I think Hurts assuming this continues is a better player than Nick Foles. Obviously the sample size is still too small to know for sure but that's my sens And that's really the point I was getting at.

I will agree that it's way too hard to figure out what Hurts is ultimately going to be and the Jared Goff experience lurks out there as a possibility for every quarterback this young. So at this time I'm not going to speculate.

 

Points: 0

#18 by Pat // Oct 01, 2022 - 9:32am

I really don't like the whole "broadly grouping wildly different QBs together" thing. Foles, Goff, and Wentz are all similar QBs in that they have strengths, but major weaknesses.

Goff and Foles are actually pretty similar in that if you give them a play and the coverage is right and everything goes well, they'll execute it. Goff probably handles pressure better, Foles probably reads better. Their careers are actually broadly similar if you look at them, except Foles started off in a good situation and went to a bad one, while Goff did the opposite. Generally I think handling pressure's the most important job for a QB, so it's not surprising Goff's still a starter (well, plus Foles is like, 5-6 years older).

Wentz is way different. He's the competitive, damn the torpedoes, I can make this play type. Almost all his highlights are working out of structure, rather than in it. But part of the reason he's so frustrating is he's got like no pocket awareness: pressure could develop from a totally expected direction, and he gets slammed. Like that unblocked defender above. That problem *used* to result in those highlights, because he'd slip the pressure. Now those barely come anymore.

That's why I don't like "ranking" them. Goff and younger Foles you could win with, but you need the right team: Goff better receivers, Foles a better line. I really think Wentz is near-shot at this point, his habits are just getting worse. So many of those sacks vs Philly were 100% him. Quarterbacks have to be part of the protection. You can't just stand there blindly staring down field.

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#13 by mehnsrea // Sep 30, 2022 - 4:33pm

Love this

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#19 by Darren // Oct 01, 2022 - 5:30pm

On the last clip, notice how Kelce doesn't run downfield to find someone to block? If he gets downfield before the ball is thrown, that TD comes back. Disciplined play.

 

I like that the line doesn't immediately let their guys go, and instead sell the run play. Too often offensive linemen release immediately and that gives away the screen (DL think "why did the guard get OUT of my way? kinda sus").

Points: 0

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