OFFENSIVE LINEMEN play in front of 70,000-plus spectators every week, with millions more watching on TV. But unless they're being flagged for a penalty or miss a block that allows their quarterback to get his brains scrambled, they rarely get noticed. That's especially true on a bad team like the Eagles.
When our attention has turned to their injury-ravaged offensive line this season, it has usually been to check out the latest misadventures of King Dunlap or Demetress Bell or Danny Watkins.
Meanwhile, few have noticed that, over at left guard, Evan Mathis is having a Pro Bowl-worthy season.
"He's been solid, really solid," Eagles offensive-line coach Howard Mudd said. "In these days here, to say somebody's playing great, well, everybody plays horsebleep. But Evan's played very satisfactory. He's really playing good. Not every part of every game. But when you look at the body of work, it's been very good."
Mathis turned in another solid performance Sunday night in the Eagles' 38-33 loss to Dallas. Had key blocks on both of Bryce Brown's touchdowns, teaming with Dunlap to create a big lane for Brown on his 10-yard, first-quarter scoring run and taking out linebacker Dan Connor on the rookie's 5-yard TD in the second quarter.
Helped spring Brown on a 24-yard first-quarter run with a nice block on defensive end Jason Hatcher, and sealed off linebacker Ernie Sims on a 13-yard screen to rookie Damaris Johnson. Mathis and the rest of the Eagles' line did a good job of protecting rookie quarterback Nick Foles, allowing just one sack.
"Evan has played even better than he played last year, and he played very well last year," said center Jason Kelce, who has been on injured reserve since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in Week 2. "He's done it despite having new guys by his side pretty much every week.
"He's been playing at a Pro Bowl level. He probably won't get that recognition unfortunately, because of the way the team's been going. But he's been having a good year. He's playing as good as any guard in the league right now."
Mathis has not allowed a sack this season. ProFootballFocus currently has him ranked as the top guard in the league, ahead of the Ravens' Marshal Yanda, the 49ers' Alex Boone and the Saints' Jahri Evans.
The website has him ranked as the top-rated run-blocking guard with a 26.9 rating, nearly 10 points higher than their second-rated guard, the Niners' Mike Iupati. His 9.9 pass-blocking rating is fourth behind the Bills' Andy Levitre, the Lions' Rob Sims and the Bengals' Clint Boling.
Mathis is the last man standing on a line that has sent three of its starters - All Pro left tackle Jason Peters, Kelce and right tackle Todd Herremans - to injured reserve, and a fourth - 2011 first-round pick Watkins - to the bench.
Peters was replaced by Bell, then Dunlap, then Bell, then Dunlap, then Bell, then Dunlap again. Things have been a little more stable to Mathis' immediate right, where Dallas Reynolds replaced Kelce in Week 3 and has started the last 10 games.
"I'm going to play the same game no matter what," Mathis said. "That's what I'm paid to do. That's what I know. As an athlete, as a person, I'm not going to be affected by external circumstances.
"I'm not going to hang my head about the fact that we've lost four offensive linemen. I can't worry about any of that. I won't let myself be distracted. That's my game."
Mathis was one of the many free agents the Eagles brought in last year after the lockout. He was the guy they didn't have a news conference for. Ironically, he's turned out to be the most productive player from that free-agent class.
Drafted by Carolina in the third round of the 2005 draft, Mathis had started just 22 games in six seasons with three different teams before the Eagles signed him last summer.
The 6-5, 302-pounder signed with the Eagles because he felt his athleticism would be a good fit for Mudd's zone-blocking system. He was right. Brought in initially as a potential backup at both guard and tackle, he won the starting left guard job and helped the Eagles set franchise records last season in total net yards and first downs.
Mathis, who was an unrestricted free agent after the season, signed a 5-year deal with the Eagles in March.
"I came here last year and no one knew what I was going to do except me," Mathis said. "I knew what I wanted to do, what I was going to do. I'm trying to be the best at what I do.
"I don't think there's a single block or assignment that I don't have confidence in. I know I can do every single one and I can do every single one very well. I aim to play perfect football. I try to be as efficient as possible.
"When you're aiming to play perfect, at the very least, you hope to achieve excellence by doing so. I miss a block here and there. And it eats at me when I do. When I give up a pressure or a hit, or a guy falls off a block, that gets at me. I try very hard to avoid that from happening."
Mudd feels the struggles Mathis went through earlier in his career, including getting released twice (by Carolina and Miami), have helped him deal with the adversity the Eagles' offensive line has dealt with this season.
"He's got tremendous mental toughness," Mudd said. "He's really smart. He went through a little period [earlier this season] where, I'm not sure it showed up in his play, but he was trying to do too much. We talked about that a little bit. [I told him] don't try to make too many calls. Don't try to do more than your job. Just do that well. That kind of thing. And he's been fine.
"What he has gone through has helped him. He bounced around, kicked around. Then he excelled last year and picked up where he left off this year."
Mathis signed with the Eagles so that he could play for Mudd. But this will be Mudd's final season, regardless of what happens with Andy Reid. He said last week that it's time "to be a grandpa."
"I'm eternally grateful to Howard," Mathis said. "He's made the game much easier for me. It's all about the technique and the ways to do things. The way his mindset is, there's an easy way to do something. By easy, I mean efficient. He has an answer for every situation. I've really opened up to his coaching since Day 1 and listened to everything he had to say. He has taught me a lot."
That Mathis has managed to have his best NFL season in a year when the Eagles have won just three of 12 games obviously is frustrating. But it's a testament to the guy's ability to stay focused.
"Guys that have been around the league and have experienced losing, it's terribly frustrating," he said. "It can have an impact on you mentally. That's one of the things you have to work on to eliminate from your mind. Stay focused on the task at hand and not be distracted by the situation you're in.
"I've been through turmoil before in my career. Injuries, bad situations. No matter what, you have to eliminate all that from your thought process and focus on doing your job. Because if you don't, it's going to have an impact on how you prepare and how you play the game."
On Twitter: @Pdomo