Does Eagles left tackle Jason Peters still have it? | Film breakdown
Jason Peters was once arguably the best left tackle in the NFL, but he hasn't been playing near that level in his 15th season.
He's a Hall of Famer.
Over the last several years, it's become a matter of saying. When people talk about Jason Peters, they invariably mention his Hall of Fame credentials or that he'll someday end up in Canton. I've covered the nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle for his entire tenure in Philadelphia, and while I can't claim to know how the Pro Football Writers of America will gauge his career when he's up for induction, he's the Eagles player most deserving of the honor over the last decade. (Of the current, younger crop, Fletcher Cox and Carson Wentz have that potential.)
But there comes a time in every almost every elite athlete's career when the listing of his accomplishments doesn't sound as much about the current player as it does the once-great one. Offensive coordinator Mike Groh was asked Monday to assess Peters' recent performance, and he gave a robotic answer that could have been written by the Eagles' public relations department.
"J.P. is a valued member of our offensive line," Groh said. "He's got Hall of Fame credentials, and we're lucky that he's our left tackle, and we're hopeful that he will be able to continue to play for us."
In other words, we're not publicly critical of our greatest players. Which is understandable. But Peters has struggled of late. He's looked – gasp – human. He's also coming off knee surgery, has been playing through various injuries, and is likely dealing with the inevitable decline of someone his age (36).
Despite all that, it's not as bad as it seems, based on an evaluation of the film from the Eagles' first six games. Peters blocked well in the opener against the Falcons. He reinjured his quadriceps on the second play against the Buccaneers the following week. He rebounded against the Colts, but had issues in the Titans and Vikings games and had maybe the worst game of his Eagles career at the New York Giants.
Peters suffered another injury — to his right bicep — and was replaced again by Halapoulivaati Vaitai. There was initial trepidation that he would miss time, but he practiced Wednesday and is expected to play Sunday against the Panthers, according to coach Doug Pederson.
"We have all the confidence in the world in Jason," Pederson said. "He works his tail off each week and gets himself prepared and ready to go. Very comfortable with him playing."
Even if Peters' struggles have been overstated, remaining healthy as the season wanes and the Eagles contend for the postseason should be a concern. As the film below shows, Peters is still a better option than Vaitai, even at less than 100 percent, but his days of dominance appear to be over.
The Giants game
Giants edge rusher Olivier Vernon (No. 54) missed the first five games of the season with a high ankle sprain. He looked fresh in his first action against the Eagles and got the better of Peters (No. 71) on several early plays, including this bull rush when he knocked the tackle back off his feet.
Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland: It seems like he's playing always against the best player on the field. Olivier Vernon – he's a premium pass rusher. That guy's a great player. I think the timing, sometimes with J.P., he's such a perfectionist and I don't think he's far [off].
Vernon is the best edge rusher Peters has faced this season, but most wouldn't consider him among the NFL's elite. He averaged 7.3 sacks in his first six seasons. On this play, Vernon got inside and Peters was called for holding – his team-high sixth of the season.
Stoutland: There were a couple of times when he could just get his foot in the ground a second sooner and he's solidifying all those blocks. He's solidified most of them. But the ones that you guys see, maybe one or two … that's the life they live. I think he's still extremely productive and playing at a very high level.
The Eagles increasingly had running backs and tight ends chip or run interference on Peters' side after his early issues. He's always had the occasional help, like every tackle, but when protection is shaded to his side it creates opportunities in other spots along the line.
Eagles center Jason Kelce: J.P., you see him a couple plays, and everybody wants to point out those plays, but he also did some pretty good things in there, as well. He threw [Vernon] across the field on a couple plays.
In the third quarter, Wentz (No. 11) and the offensive line failed to pick up a blitz. Peters had two rushers. He reached out to slow the inside linebacker and injured his bicep.
Kelce: He's playing through some injuries and I'm sure if you asked him, he wishes he was performing better. These are things that happen. … Obviously, J.P.'s not at 100 percent. I think anybody can see it in his injuries.
Peters left and Vaitai came in. Like most players, Vaitai is better with a week of preparation as the starter.
Pederson: Oh, he's much better.
He showed that last season as the Eagles went on their Super Bowl run. But on this run play, for instance, Vaitai (No. 72) was seemingly late on his assignment and Wendell Smallwood (No. 28) was dropped for a loss.
The Falcons game
Peters tore the ACL in his knee almost a year ago on Oct. 23. His season was over and he had to watch, like Wentz and several other injured players, as the Eagles won a Super Bowl without him. He was back practicing by the spring and was completely cleared by training camp. Pederson opted to rest him throughout the preseason.
Peters didn't show any rust in the opener. On the first play from scrimmage, he pancaked defensive end Takkarist McKinley (No. 98).
Eagles rookie guard Matt Pryor: Look at just how powerful his hands are. We'll be watching a game and on run plays he'll toss the d-end out and I'm just like, "What the hell?"
On the game-winning touchdown run by Jay Ajayi (No. 26), Peters pulled and led the way.
In pass protection, he didn't give up a single pressure.
Pryor: He's quick off the ball. He's always the first one off the snap.
Eagles rookie tackle Jordan Mailata: It's crazy how long he can stay low all the time.
The Bucs game
Peters wasn't listed on the injury report before the Tampa game, but he later said that he strained his quad during practice. It took two plays before he aggravated the strain.
Peters left, but came back for the next series.
Stoutland: That guy is a warrior. You know how he is. He just keeps playing and playing and playing.
But he was called for an illegal block above the waist and pulled himself a few plays later.
Peters: It kept grabbing on me. I was like, "Let me be smart about it," and I just came out.
The Colts game
Peters said he after the Bucs game that he would return the following week and he did. He was limited in practice, but he didn't seem affected by the injury. On this 16-yard rush by Josh Adams (No. 33), he looked like classic Peters as he kicked out.
Pryor: He's still moving and I'm like, "How the hell does he still do that?"
Wentz was sacked five times in his first game back, but Peters wasn't directly responsible for any. His assignment for most of the game was rookie Kemoko Turay (No. 57) and he kept him in check. But on a key third down late in the game, the defensive end got around Peters.
Wentz escaped and Turay ran into a blitzing teammate as the quarterback hit receiver Nelson Agholor. Peters would end the drive with one of his patented clear out blocks, though, as Smallwood ran four yards for the game-winning score.
The Titans game
The Eagles offensive line got off to another rough start in Tennessee. Peters again wasn't directly responsible for any of the Titans' four sacks, but he and left guard Stefen Wisniewski (No. 61) had trouble handling this stunt.
Peters also uncharacteristically got knocked to the ground on a bull rush. Wentz hit receiver Alshon Jeffery (No. 17) on a fade, but he got the ball off just before his tackle fell into his legs.
Stoutland: When you play tackle in this league it's like you program your spaceship to go to the moon. If you don't program it right you might end up in Mars. And that's not a joke. That's the truth. If you take the wrong step, or you're a step under yourself or you false step or you take too many kicks, you're in a bad spot.
Peters was penalized again for holding and allowed four total pressures. Right tackle Lane Johnson (No. 65) had a tougher day. He allowed two sacks – one of them forced a fumble – four pressures and committed a penalty.
The entire unit rebounded, though. Peters held off veteran edge rusher Brian Orakpo (No. 98) for seven seconds – right guard Brandon Brooks (No. 79) was eventually flagged for holding — as Wentz scrambled in the pocket.
Peters had said after the Vikings game that Wentz had been holding the ball too long – not as a complaint, but more as a matter of fact – but this might have been an example when throwing the ball away would have sufficed.
The game went to overtime and on three of the first four plays, the Eagles ran off the left edge behind Peters, gaining 29 yards total.
Peters' core workouts are the stuff of legend around the NovaCare Complex.
Pryor: He's always talking about his core. We'll be lifting, "Hey, Pryor, come and do core." I'm like, "Alright." You can't say no to him.
The Vikings game
The Eagles benched Wisniewksi for Isaac Seumalo. The left guard had some early struggles against Minnesota, but settled down.
Peters: Isaac is going to be just fine. That's the first time I played with him since the Kansas City game last season. We didn't do badly for the first time around.
On this Wentz 48-yard pass to receiver Shelton Gibson (No. 18), Peters and Seumalo (No. 73) held their one-on-one blocks for four seconds.
Seumalo: He's a Hall of Famer so he makes things a lot real easy.
Peters got banged up again in the third quarter and left briefly.
Offensive linemen are famous for playing through injury. Johnson played through a high ankle sprain last week. Kelce is clearly dealing with a knee injury. Former Eagles guard Todd Herremans played with a torn bicep in 2015 before his season was shut down. Peters' bicep injury isn't believed to be as serious.
Kelce: I don't think that we're dealing with that situation. I don't want to speak on this specific injury, because I've never had it, but I think in general, as a player you always want to play, you want to help your team.
Peters returned and tossed linebacker Anthony Barr (No. 55) to the ground. And, no, that's not a hold.
But on a late-game drive to go ahead, he couldn't contain end Danielle Hunter (No. 99) on this stutter-step outside rush. The pocket collapsed on Wentz from both sides and he threw the ball away for intentional grounding.
The 2017 and 2016 Peters
Peters has bucked the odds for years. There haven't been many starting left tackles over the age of 35. The Rams' Andrew Whitworth is only a month older than Peters. The 49ers' Joe Staley (34), the Seahawks' Duane Brown (33) and the Panthers' Chris Clark (33) are the next in line, but there isn't another starting left tackle over the age of 31. The average age of the starters is 27.8.
Peters was playing at a high level before his ACL injury last year. He had allowed only one sack in seven games, and none in the Eagles' Week 6 win over the Panthers.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera: The guy's just been a dominant player, dominate force at left tackle for them. He's a guy that's going to compete, battle. He's a savvy veteran guy that's going to do everything he can to protect his quarterback and to open up the running lanes.
Peters was even better in 2016, as he showed on this run block, getting his 6-foot-4, 340-something pound body down the field.
The classic Peters
But his best season was probably 2011. Under first-year offensive line coach Howard Mudd, Peters took his game to another level and was arguably the No. 1 offensive lineman in the NFL. Few edge rushers could get by him. He stonewalled the Cowboys' Demarcus Ware in this game from 2011.
That's one Hall of Famer against another. Ware had four sacks that day, but none came at Peters' expense. Quarterback Michael Vick was doing Michael Vick things.
Eagles defensive end Chris Long: The hardest thing is you can't bull [rush] him. So he totally takes away one dimension of your rush. And, second, he's a technician. Still athletic. Still has great lateral movement. There's not too many smarter football minds in the locker room, if any.
Imagine being the poor cornerback who had to try and fend off Peters here. He ran like a tight end.
Peters isn't that guy anymore. But he's close enough — close enough that the Eagles will keep sending him out there this season until he says he can't go anymore.
Stoutland: I expect him to play at a high level every time he goes out on the field. If I didn't expect that out of him he'd be disappointed in me.