With Stefen Wisniewski at left guard, Eagles offense running on all cylinders
Since the Eagles made Stefen Wisniewski the full-time starting left guard, Carson Wentz and the offense has been soaring.
The Eagles' decision-makers have pushed nearly all of the right buttons in this nearly perfect 9-1 season.
Football operations chief Howie Roseman and his top personnel advisor, Joe Douglas, found a keeper in the first round of the draft (defensive end Derek Barnett) and a sleeper after it was over (running back Corey Clement). They signed wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back LeGarrette Blount and traded for defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, cornerback Ronald Darby, and running back Jay Ajayi, all of whom have been big contributors. And head coach Doug Pederson and his staff have made very few mistakes with respect to strategy and lineup decisions.
The one notable boo-boo they made — and Roseman almost certainly had a hand in influencing it — was the summer decision to gift the starting left guard job to 2016 third-round pick Isaac Seumalo.
The Eagles had re-signed seven-year veteran Stefen Wisniewski, who had 83 career starts. They also had added Chance Warmack, a former first-round pick with Tennessee who had started 48 games for the Titans. Seumalo had played OK as a rookie, starting six games at three different positions. And I'll be the first to acknowledge that he has a lot of potential and might be a pretty good player at some point.
At some point.
But he hadn't done enough to be given a starting job over two veterans without first proving he was better than both of them in training camp and the preseason.
As everyone knows by now, Seumalo started the Eagles' first two games against Washington and Kansas City, struggled mightily, and was benched.
Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland rotated Wisniewski and Warmack, whom he coached in college at Alabama, the better part of the next three games, then finally did what he should have done from Day 1, which is plug in Wisniewski at left guard and keep him there.
"At the end of the day, Wiz, his production level was better [than Warmack's],'' Stoutland said. "Chance did nothing wrong. Chance was actually playing pretty damn good.
"But I just decided I didn't want to keep doing this [rotating]. I wanted to settle on one person. Once I declared in my brain who that was, that's what we did.''
Wisniewski played 63 percent of the snaps in the Eagles' 34-7 Week 5 win over Arizona and has played all but one snap in the five games since then.
Quarterback Carson Wentz has a 113.8 passer rating in the last six games, throwing 19 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. He's been sacked just 11 times in those six games.
Despite losing nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters to a season-ending injury in Week 7, the Eagles still have averaged 4.4 yards per carry since Wisniewski became the full-time starter.
"He got his opportunity, and he's embraced it,'' Stoutland said. "He's made very few mistakes, and his production has been very high. That's what this business is all about. You can't ignore that.''
Wisniewski, whose father, Leo, and uncle Steve both played in the NFL, was a 2011 second-round pick of the Raiders out of Penn State. He started 61 games in four seasons with the Raiders, then signed with Jacksonville and started 16 more for them in 2015. Most of those 77 starts were at center, a few at guard. While he played a lot in Oakland and Jacksonville, he didn't win a lot. This will be his first winning season with an NFL team, and, barring another "Year of the Blue Snow," his first-ever playoff appearance.
The 6-foot-3, 305 pound Wisniewski isn't a highlight-film blocker. He's not going to pancake people like 350-pound right guard Brandon Brooks. He's just a consistent blocker who gets the job done.
"If you look at offensive-line play, everybody gets wowed by the big blocks,'' center Jason Kelce said. "That's the stuff they like to show on tape and stuff. But really, what offensive line play is about, it's all about consistency.
"As long as you're doing your job and taking care of where you're supposed to be at [and] putting your head in the right place, if you continually do that over and over again, you're going to be successful. Wiz does that as well as anybody I've ever played with.
"At times, throughout his career, he's probably been overlooked because he doesn't necessarily have the wowing athleticism or the wowing destroying block. But we've had great success with him because he's consistent and does his job. And that's what allows him to be so successful.''
Wisniewski's background as a center has benefitted him at guard, and essentially has given the Eagles two centers on the line.
"[Having played center] definitely is a huge advantage [at guard],'' he said. "When you're a center, you really learn to see the whole defense. All 11 guys. At guard, you're just looking at three guys in front of you maybe.
"So it kind of broadens your perspective. And the more you see, the more you can understand what they're going to try and do to you. If you know what a defense is doing, it's a lot easier to block them.''
Wisniewski obviously was disappointed this summer when the Eagles didn't allow him to compete for the left guard job. But he kept his head down and continued to work hard and waited for his opportunity.
"I just looked at it like I'm going to do the best I can every day and see what happens,'' he said. "I obviously had to wait a little while. But it all eventually worked out.
"Being a backup was tough. I'm not used to that. I have kind of a new perspective on how challenging it can be to be on the bench. But I definitely learned a lot from it. It was probably a good thing for me. Not a fun thing, obviously. But a good thing.''
Wait. What? A good thing?
"Yeah. The reason football is so great for [helping you with] life is you deal with a lot of adversity,'' he said. "Whether it's losing your starting job or injuries or losing, something's going to happen to you in this game. Pain. Pain is every day. Throughout your life, you're going to deal with stuff like that.''
For now, everything is going swimmingly — for Wisniewski and for his football team.
Figuring the Eagles
Eagles slot corner Patrick Robinson has allowed just 54.5 percent of all passes targeted in his direction to be caught, according to Pro Football Focus. That's the best percentage of his career. He has eight deflections on 55 targets this season. He had seven in 101 the previous two seasons.
Lane Johnson continued to make his compelling case for a Pro Bowl invitation Sunday night. After holding the Broncos' Von Miller to zero quarterback pressures two weeks earlier, he allowed no sacks and just one pressure to the Cowboys' DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence came into the game as the NFL sack leader.
The Eagles are second in the league in third-down defense, with a 29.1 opponent conversion rate. They have allowed opponents to convert just 8 of 23 third downs of 2 yards or fewer (34.8 percent). The next-closest team is the Lions, at 44.4 percent. Offensively, the Eagles have converted 76.2 percent of their third downs of 2 yards or fewer. That's the fourth-best mark in the league.
The Eagles have scored 57 points on their first two possessions of games this season (six touchdowns, five field goals). They are averaging 5.4 yards per play on their first two possessions. Opponents have scored just 15 points on their first two possessions (no TDs, five FGs) and have averaged 3.6 yards per play.