The week has gone by without much discussion about who will play right tackle for the Eagles, which is a good sign compared with the Eagles' first meeting with the Washington Redskins.
In Week 6, Lane Johnson left for Oklahoma to begin his 10-game suspension and the Eagles prepared to replace him at right tackle with fifth-round pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
It didn't go well.
Quarterback Carson Wentz was sacked five times and hit 12 times, with Vaitai appearing overmatched against Redskins pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan on the right side. Vaitai improved as the season progressed, but he won't get a rematch against Kerrigan on Sunday. A knee injury is expected to keep Vaitai sidelined for the third consecutive game, and veteran Allen Barbre will remain the right tackle, with Stefen Wisniewski taking Barbre's place at left guard. Barbre started at left guard in the first meeting against Washington.
"Honestly, just focusing on a different position, a different guy," Barbre said. "Same defense, but focusing on a different technique."
Barbre praised Kerrigan on Thursday, but seeing a pass rusher of Kerrigan's ability won't be a shock to Barbre's system. He is a nine-year pro who is starting his 35th career game. Vaitai was active for the first time when he faced Kerrigan, who has 10 sacks this season.
Kerrigan beat Vaitai for a sack on the first play of the game, and then again on the fourth play. Three drives later, Kerrigan overmatched Vaitai for another sack. Wentz was under pressure all day, and the Eagles were slow in offering Vaitai help.
"I think, that day, our one-on-one matchups, we won a few more than we lost," Washington coach Jay Gruden said this week as diplomatically as possible. "You can only out-scheme so many blitzes, or then you get free runners. Eventually, you're going to have to win some one-on-one matchups."
Barbre was not focused on Kerrigan or the edge rushing in the first matchup. He said that the film from that game has been useful to him this week to get a sense of what Washington will do.
"Just studied what kind of look Kerrigan [showed] and how he went about going against Big V," Barbre said. "I can learn watching that."
Wentz finished 11 of 22 for 179 yards that afternoon. It was his lowest completion percentage of the season and the five sacks were the most he's taken all year. He has not been the same quarterback since that day - Wentz had seven touchdown passes and one interception entering the game, and has had five touchdown passes and 10 interceptions since then. For what it's worth, Wentz is expecting a different result in the second meeting.
"We learned they're a good football team, but we also learned there were some things we could take advantage of, for sure," Wentz said. "I thought later in the game, we kind of settled in and did some things better. Kind of came out sluggish . . . but I think we'll be ready to roll on Sunday."
It would help Wentz if the team can help get the running game going - although the Eagles will need an opportunity to do so. They have been limited to 18.5 carries per game in the last two weeks because they fell into early deficits. That was also the case in the first Washington game, when they ran only 21 times. The Eagles climbed back from a 14-0 deficit that day, but the pass-blocking problems were part of the reason they were limited to a season-low 48 plays. They averaged 4.5 yards per carry against Washington's run defense.
"I do lean on that offensive line quite a bit," coach Doug Pederson said. "I talk to them during the week and say this might be the week we need to rush the ball 30, 35 times. They're up for the challenge, obviously."
Barbre has been serviceable in his move to right tackle, which was actually the Eagles' initial plan to survive Johnson's suspension. It wasn't until the Week 4 bye that the Eagles decided to keep Barbre at left guard and play Vaitai.
The lineup with Barbre and Wisniewski is the most experienced group the Eagles can use. The five starters on the line will have 39 combined years of NFL experience and 399 career starts.
"We've all played a lot of games, a lot of snaps," right guard Brandon Brooks said. "Different situations will come up, and you're cool, collected under pressure because you've been through it."
There's no saying how long the Eagles will keep this group. Vaitai could return soon, and Johnson is due back from suspension for Week 16. Pederson said he "wouldn't hesitate" to put Johnson back at right tackle, and that would likely return Barbre to left guard. But for this week, the Eagles just need a better performance from the right tackle position than the one they received when they first played Washington.
In addition to Vaitai, the Eagles also missed wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (abdominal/oblique) at practice. No. 1 receiver Jordan Matthews (ankle) was a full participant after he was limited Wednesday.