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McLane: Eagles slow to help Vaitai - and pay price

LANDOVER, Md. - Halapoulivaati Vaitai stood with his back to reporters as he finished getting dressed in the visitors' locker room at FedEx Field. His shirt had the number 72 emblazoned in the middle with the words "QUIET ONE" above it.

LANDOVER, Md. - Halapoulivaati Vaitai stood with his back to reporters as he finished getting dressed in the visitors' locker room at FedEx Field. His shirt had the number 72 emblazoned in the middle with the words "QUIET ONE" above it.

The rookie was the last person who would have been expected to second-guess Doug Pederson's decision to give him little help early in the Eagles' 27-20 loss to the Redskins on Sunday. Vaitai benefited from the initial decision to start him at right tackle, of course, but he is prideful and in no position to question a head coach.

Stefen Wisniewski's response to why the Eagles chose Vaitai over the double move of inserting him at left guard and sliding Allen Barbre outside, however, spoke volumes.

"I was told that 'V' had been practicing really well," Wisniewski said, "and they wanted to give him a shot."

It remains to be seen if Pederson will opt for the latter realignment when the Eagles host the undefeated Vikings next week, although he sort of gave Vaitai the nod. But the decision to start the rookie wasn't as much the problem as was tossing him out there on an island on the Eagles' first several possessions.

"Started out just trying to get his legs," Pederson said of Vaitai. "Had a couple of missed assignments early and felt like he settled into the game as the game wore on. We used more help on his side as the game wore on, as well, really on both edges."

And the offense was able to sustain a few drives after the half. So why didn't Pederson scheme Vaitai help right away? The Eagles' fifth-round draft pick hadn't put on a game-day uniform, let alone play in an NFL game, until Sunday. He had Ryan Kerrigan's tread marks all over his green-and-whites before the coaches realized that maybe it would be wise to also chip-block the outside linebacker.

"The game speed is fast," Vaitai said. "It's a lot different than practice."

Carson Wentz was dropped on the first play from scrimmage - Kerrigan and safety Will Blackmon split that sack - and four plays later when Kerrigan steamrolled Vaitai and gobbled up the quarterback like Lane Johnson does banned supplements.

Three drives later, Kerrigan notched his second solo sack with a similar move that made it obvious Vaitai couldn't block him one-on-one.

"It was his turn to step up," Wentz said of Vaitai. "We didn't change our plan of attack. We didn't change too many things."

Yeah, no kidding.

By the time Pederson gave Vaitai consistent help in the second half, it was too late. The defense had spotted the Redskins 27 points, and the only way the Eagles could reach the end zone was via Wendell Smallwood's 86-yard kick return and Malcolm Jenkins' 64-yard interception.

The returns kept the Eagles offense off the field, but so, too, did Jim Schwartz's leaky defense that couldn't pressure Kirk Cousins, stop the run or cover receivers for most of the day. Other than that, how was the suspension, Lane?

Almost everyone remembers Osi Umenyiora toasting Winston Justice for four of his six sacks back in 2008, but few recall how poorly Correll Buckhalter blocked in Brian Westbrook's place. There were plenty of goats on the visitors' side, and the main one is baaaaing back in Oklahoma for the next 10 weeks.

"Kerrigan had a good game," Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews said. "But at the same time, too, there's a lot of things we still could have done. I'm not just going to put it all on that. We've all got to look at ourselves in the mirror."

Pederson said he didn't consider benching Vaitai at the break. Those are tough calls to make, and even more difficult to judge, because only the Eagles know if Barbre would have been to be ready to jump outside. Pederson also has Vaitai's confidence to consider.

"That sends a bad message to the players, the team," he said. "Again, it's our [job] as coaches and head coach to make sure our guys are ready."

The Eagles pumped up Vaitai's readiness last week, which was understandable considering his challenge. But the hyperbole - "I just don't think he's going to be that shocked," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "I expect him to play well and I expect him after the game to say, 'This was easier than I thought it was going to be.' " - was overwrought.

Reality, of course, is a place where exaggerations go to die.

"It's just one of those things where you start thinking a lot, as expected," Vaitai said of his first game. "But there's a lot of things I need to work on."

He did improve in the second half, but running backs Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner and tight end Zach Ertz were often there by his side, either chipping on the way out or staying in to block.

"That was good for us," Kerrigan said, "because it allowed less guys to go out on their routes."

The Eagles wanted to avoid making two moves instead of one after Johnson's suspension, but there had to more behind their reluctance to play Barbre at tackle. They had gone that route during the preseason - first with rookie Isaac Seumalo at left guard and then Wisniewski. What changed?

Wisniewski, who started every game he played in the NFL before signing with the Eagles this March, said that he thought a switch this week was "possible." The Vikings have one of the league's best defenses.

"I'm hoping to get a shot eventually," he said.

Vaitai said that Pederson gave him a vote of confidence after the game. If he needed more assurance, he needed only to look down at the front of his shirt.

The worst days are the days you must show up.

Those days will create your inner beast.