The Eagles surrendered 49 sacks during the 2010 regular season, ranking 29th in the league. That number is simply unacceptable in a league where to win championships, your quarterback must be kept upright. The Eagles failed to protect both Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick from injuries and unfavorable field position throughout the season. Those are facts, and those are undisputable. What can be debated, however, are the best methods to fixing the offensive line. Many believe that the Eagles should go out and snag two premier free agents or use their most valued draft picks on the critical unit. I’m not saying that those routes would not help the team, but I would take a step back and at least evaluate what exactly the Eagles have in their front five. Keep in mind that most good offensive lines have great chemistry, not necessarily great talent. Obviously, there are times when upgrades must be acquired, but sometimes it is better for the unit to allow players to grow together and get a feel for each other.
At left tackle, the Eagles have a good one in Jason Peters. He had arguably the best season of his career in 2010, surrendering only two sacks in fourteen starts. His career sack allowed per start rate (a statistic I believe I have just invented) is a remarkably low 0.35 for a left tackle. He is also a very good run blocker, as the Eagles had way more success running left than they did right last season. He has to go up against DeMarcus Ware, Justin Tuck, and Brian Orakpo twice a year and almost never gets any help. He deserved his pro bowl selection and is one of the best left tackles in the game. Next to him is Todd Herremans, who was again a very reliable left guard. He allowed 3.5 sacks in 16 starts, which is right around his career sack allowed/start rate (which I will begin calling SASR) of 0.25. He is the next best run blocker on the team, and is a quality guard who can kick out and play tackle if necessary. He and Peters have good chemistry together, and this pair should be entrenched as the starters at left tackle and left guard for the next five to seven seasons.
At center, Mike McGlynn started his first fifteen games after a season ending injury to Jamaal Jackson. McGlynn was not bad, posting a SASR of 0.30, which is certainly not bad in a division that includes interior presences such as Jay Ratliff and Barry Cofield. While he handled his blocking responsibilities relatively well, he often struggled with the line calls. The center is responsible for making last-second adjustments in protection schemes, and I have a suspicion that McGlynn is at fault for the blitz disrupting Michael Vick as much as it did. Therefore, I believe McGlynn really needs to focus on the mental aspect on the game or make a permanent position switch to right guard. He should compete to start at both spots. Jamaal Jackson has had trouble staying healthy lately, but if he can return at full strength, his SASR of 0.18 and familiarity with the Eagle offense should translate into him regaining his starting job at center. When he’s healthy, he’s an above-average center that the Eagles can lean on. With both Jackson and McGlynn on the roster, center is not a position that the Eagles must desperately find an upgrade for.
The right side of the line was where the Eagles really ran into trouble, especially towards the end of the season. Nick Cole, who was a very reliable reserve in years past, really regressed in 2010. He has a miserable SASR of 0.71 in his seven starts and was an utterly ineffective run blocker. After the season he just had, he should expect to be cut. However, Max Jean-Gilles, a player Eagle fans love to blame for the offensive line, was the only Eagle who started a game to not surrender a single sack. That’s right, MJG did not give up a single sack in eleven starts and has a career SASR of 0.15. The Eagles would like him to be much more athletic, but I don’t see how they can point to him as a big problem. He shouldn’t be handed a starting job, but he has certainly earned the right to compete for one. One player who he will need to fight off is Reggie Wells, who was inactive for most of the season, but has started 97 career games and boasts a low SASR of 0.16. I’m not sure why he was never given a fair shot at the right guard job, but the Eagles ought to be able to find two decent players out of Jamaal Jackson, Mike McGlynn, Max Jean-Gilles, and Reggie Wells. None is going to be mistaken for a pro-bowler, but it’s not like right guard is the most important position in the world either. What will hurt the Eagles, however, is the absence of a steady right tackle. Winston Justice wasn’t awful, but he was certainly bad, and he is responsible for protecting Michael Vick’s blind side, unlike most right tackles. This makes it that much more important for the Eagles to find a stud across from Jason Peters. Justice had a pretty poor SASR of 0.50 in 2010, not helping his career number of 0.53. The Eagles can’t afford to give up so many hits on Michael Vick’s blind side (where he is more prone to fumbling and injury). Justice also struggled in run blocking, and is better suited as a backup. If I were the Eagles, I would include him in a trade with Kevin Kolb to Arizona to perhaps net the fifth overall pick. Behind Justice, King Dunlap really impressed me despite a terrifying 1.30 SASR and I would be comfortable with him as the swing tackle. Below is a chart of every Eagle offensive lineman to start a game and their SASR statistics. Note that not every sack is accounted for because of communication issues rather than blocking mistakes. Statistics are courtesy of hosted.stats.com
|Player||Pos.||Starts||Sacks Allowed||2010 SASR||Career SASR|
Of those ten players, Nick Cole, Reggie Wells, and Max Jean-Gilles are set to hit the free agent market. I would retain only Max Jean-Gilles and add two or three offensive linemen in the offseason. In free agency, Baltimore and Atlanta both have several offensive linemen with expiring contracts and will likely have to let at least one starter walk. In Atlanta, I expect that player to be guard Justin Blalock, but in Baltimore, it will be a toss-up between tackle Jared Gaither and guard/tackle Marshal Yanda. Another player to keep an eye out for is Redskin right tackle Jammal Brown, who is recovering nicely from hip surgery and seems intent on testing the free agency waters. The Eagles should try to bring in any of those four players in as all can be effective starters and none will command huge deals. In the draft, I would try to get Miami guard Orlando Franklin, a nasty and athletic player who is destined for success at the next level, in the second or third round. Some possibilities at tackle in the second or third round include Indiana’s James Brewer, Villanova’s Ben Ijalana, and TCU’s Marcus Cannon. Overall, the Eagles have the talent to be a successful group, especially under the tutelage of new offensive line coach Howard Mudd. From left to right, the starting group should be Jason Peters, Todd Herremans, Jamaal Jackson, Max Jean-Gilles, and Winston Justice without any new additions. However, much of everything will come down to health and continuity on the line. Still, this is a group that has more promise than people will give them credit for heading into 2011.