The Eagles’ offensive line is the team’s signature unit right now, with the largest concentration of healthy talent. The victory at Green Bay showed what the Eagles can do when the O-line plays a dominant game. Fans were left yearning for more of the same.
Sunday’s defense-fueled shellacking of the New York Jets did not really provide more. Offensive line play was sluggish, the run game hit-and-miss (backs gained 81 yards on 25 carries), and the group took four penalties, which contributed to the offense spending far too much time behind the chains, against a winless opponent.
“Not good,” center Jason Kelce said Tuesday. “Really bad.” Then he reconsidered: “Not really bad, but not great.”
This is a concern, with the Eagles headed to Minnesota this weekend to face the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense. The Vikings give up only 292.4 yards per game; their average of 14.6 points against ranks fifth in the league.
Kelce, Eagles coach Doug Pederson, right guard Brandon Brooks and offensive coordinator Mike Groh all were careful to credit Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for causing some of the Week 5 problems.
“Obviously, we could have done a better job running the football. Inconsistent,” Kelce said. “Good D-coordinator – he does a good job mixing things up, moving guys around, keeping you on your toes. They got us off [balance] there, especially early on. … Gotta do a better job passing off games.”
The Jets’ only sack came on a stunt the offensive line failed to pick up.
Kelce courted disaster on the Eagles’ first drive, when he shotgun-snapped a high, hard one past Carson Wentz on first-and-goal from the Jets’ 6. Wentz chased the ball down, scooped it up at the 28, and fired it incomplete at the feet of receiver Mack Hollins to save the drive, which resulted in a Jordan Howard touchdown.
“It wasn’t good, man,” Brooks said after the game, when asked about a three-possession stretch in which the Eagles’ offensive output was minus-23 yards. “There’s no excuse, man, just poor execution. We’ll be better. … Give the defense credit, give Gregg Williams credit.
“The score says one thing, but we hold ourselves to a better standard. Not satisfied, but we’ll figure it out and get it right.”
The penalties were not all simple sloppiness. When asked about them on Monday, Pederson, who rarely bemoans officiating, mentioned having sent the O-line infractions to the league for clarification on what the Eagles were doing wrong.
“You don't want to see [penalties]. Again, good front. Very strong. Very quick off the ball. This is a little more of a penetrating-style defensive front than Green Bay,” Pederson said. “We'll send these clips in like we do every Monday on some of the holds that were called. To us as coaches, it didn't appear like it was, but we'll coach it up [in the next practice.]”
In the second quarter, right tackle Lane Johnson was called for a hold, negating an 8-yard Miles Sanders run. On replay, Johnson kept his hands inside defensive lineman Quinnen Williams’ shoulders as he drove Williams backward and to the ground. No holding was evident.
In the third quarter, Brooks was called for a hold after he drove linebacker Neville Hewitt downfield and reached out with an extended arm to check Hewitt at the end of a 1-yard Howard run, though the replay didn’t show Brooks grabbing Hewitt.
The third offensive line penalty was on left tackle Jason Peters for getting downfield ahead of a screen to Dallas Goedert. Peters did appear to be about 3 yards past the line of scrimmage at one point during the play, though neither he nor the Jet he blocked factored into Goedert’s negated 7-yard gain.
The final O-line penalty was a fourth-quarter false start on Johnson.
Groh said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of any response yet from the league.
“I think they called it really closely. Tight calls. A lot of times, those things wouldn’t have gotten called,” Groh said.
The Eagles’ penalty struggles Sunday – all told, they took nine, for 76 yards – occurred in the context of a league-wide explosion in yellow flags. Through five games, the average team is taking 7.62 penalties per game for 64.21 yards, according to NFLpenalties.com. In 2018, those figures were 6.45 and 55.10.
“The whole penalty thing, I think, is the hot topic right now across the league. It’s a difficult job for officials, more difficult than it’s ever been,” Kelce said. He noted that for the first time, teams are allowed to challenge whether a penalty occurred – only on pass interference, and the officials doing the video review have been reluctant to go against what was decided on the field.
“All of this just leads to this expectation that the officials are going to be perfect. Nothing is perfect in this world,” Kelce said. “They’re going to do the best job they can.”
Kelce suggested that the “points of emphasis” the league comes up with each year “force [officials] to see things maybe differently than they have” – in other words, that flags are being thrown not because the guy throwing the flag thinks he has seen something that should be a penalty, but because he has been told that something he saw should be a penalty.
“The game is high-speed. It’s fast. It's aggressive. They are having to look at a lot,” Pederson said Monday. “So from that standpoint, things get missed and things get called that, as coaches or players, we probably don't think should be called.
“It’s tough. We have to clean up what we can clean up. We control what we can control. We talk to our team every week about penalties, and not only penalties that we’ve committed, but we show them clips league-wide of things so that we’re prepared, and we have to do a better job preparing our players to not make these fouls in-game.”