Is The Eagles Offensive Line Quietly Even Worse Than Last Year?

The Eagles rushing attack is pretty great.

The offense leads the league in total rushing yards (2140) and average per carry (5.0). Football Outsiders grades them out as the top DVOA rushing offense with +20.1%, head and shoulders above second-place Dallas at +10.9%. A piece of that action has come on quarterback runs. Michael Vick is second in the NFL in rushing DYAR despite having only played in parts of six games. Banged up at age 33, he has the highest rushing DVOA of his career, a ridiculous +68.1%. Even slowpoke Nick Foles places 7th in rushing DYAR and 9th in DVOA, showing the power of the zone read.

But the bulk of the rushing offense comes down to one man: LeSean McCoy. The first back to cross 1000 yards, he's second in the league in DYAR and has already surpassed his personal season rushing record. During the Snow Bowl, he set a new franchise single-game rushing record. However, he also took some flak last month from his coach Chip Kelly, who told the press that he pushes Shady to not dance around quite so much:

"I think LeSean is trying to press too much and trying to hit a home run on every play instead of letting it develop," Kelly said.

The comment was fairly innocuous, as any observer could point out a couple plays every game where McCoy tries to out-juke just one too many defenders, or cut back one too many times. But ultimately McCoy is a Barry Sanders-esque force of nature in the backfield, and he's bailing out Chip's offense and his blockers up front much more than the other way around.

See, the truth according to the advanced stats runs somewhat contrary to the conventional wisdom. Not that anyone is particularly discounting McCoy's contribution to the offense. But there has been a lot of praise heaped on the zone read and a rejuvenated offensive line for the success of the run game. It's not completely misplaced. Certainly we've seen the Jason Peters, Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce dominate blocks at times. Todd Herremans appears to be fading with age, and Lane Johnson makes some rookie mistakes, but they're important athletic pieces in the blocking scheme.

But ultimately, the advanced offensive line stats don't look particularly good:

Since 2010, when McCoy took over as the featured back, the rushing attack has been stellar. High per-rush averages, great power success (that's short yardage, high leverage plays), and elite 2nd level and open field gains. The consistency of those stats is shocking compared to the overall decline in Football Outsiders' signature stat of Adjusted Line Yards. That metric weights runs by distance, attempting to isolate the offensive line's performance over the early yards vs. the largely running back-driven yards down the field.

McCoy has always generated a healthy performance bump above what his offensive line provides him, but this year is the greatest difference yet. Some of that is a higher rushing average than the last two years, but Eagles running backs are actually behind their 2010 pace. The difference is that the offensive line has only "generated" 3.47 yards per rush, 0.6 yards per rush less than 2010. The gradual decline over the last three years comes despite no major change in power or stuffed rank. And the 2nd level and open field yards are as good as ever for McCoy.

Plus, the offensive line isn't doing so hot in pass protection either. The adjusted sack rate is actually worse than last year, despite a distinct lack of starting games by noted turnstile Danny Watkins.

None of these stats are perfect, but the overall picture isn't jiving with the public narrative of a rejuvenated offensive line. And that's partially to be expected. The Eagles had the eight-oldest starting offensive line coming into the season, despite starting a 23-year-old rookie. The Giants are the only other team to rely on three starters over 30. Normally you would worry about injuries with an aging offensive line, but due to either #sportscience or good luck, the Eagles front five have been remarkably injury-free. They just haven't been as productive.

Despite controlling their own playoff destiny, this team has a lot of obvious holes. But when everyone's screaming for more pass rushers and defensive backs this offseason, don't be surprised if the Eagles make a push for young offensive line help. It's secretly one of the team's largest problems.

The Herr-Dawg Prepares to Move Inside

Todd Herremans doesn't seem to mind his presumed move back to guard. From Jordan Raanan:

"They don't spend the fourth overall pick on a kid and not have him come and play tackle," said Herremans, who received a text from general manager Howie Roseman and a phone call from coach Chip Kelly after the pick. "One of the things that has always been big for me is my versatility and being able to play other places. I'm sure they'll probably bump me down to guard and see how everything else works out."

And this quote was buried, but also interesting:

"I was prepared to play tackle, I was prepared to play guard," Herremans said. "I think I can probably steal a few more years at guard, but I still think I have three or four really good years of football left."

See also: The Book of Love According to Herr-Dawg

A Defensive End Preview

Sheil Kapadia:

Jenkins has been getting some reps at defensive end with Jason Babin out. We didn’t see him outside much last year, although Jenkins played defensive end while in a 3-4 with the Packers.

“I just gotta get back used to it,” he said. “My hand work is a little off, especially on the left side. When I did play D-End in the past, I was used to being on the right side, so when I’m on the left side, I gotta get used to the hands, vertical steps and all that stuff.”

I’m a fan of whatever looks Jim Washburn wants to throw at offenses, but with Trent Cole also out with swelling in his shoulder, now seems like the perfect time to get lots of looks at the quartet of Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Darryl Tapp, and Philip Hunt. You’re not going to be able to keep all four of those guys.

Seeing Cole and Babin both dealing with injuries is also a worthy reminder that they’re not youngsters anymore. They were tremendous pass rushers last year, but a decline could be coming.

UPDATE: Graham is running with the ones, and Jenkins and Tapp are rotating on the other side.

Eagles O-Line: Not That Young

Jimmy Kemspki provides us with a great master list of offensive line ages around the NFL:

Philly has the 13th oldest OL in the league, but their situation is a little odd, in that 4/5 of their line has very low mileage.  Todd Herremans has 92 career regular season starts.  The next highest total?  Evan Mathis, with 37, or a little more than two full seasons worth of games.

This is one of those moments when you remember that even though the Eagles will start two sophomores in the interior line, Danny Watkins is only six months younger than 28-year-old tackle Demetress Bell.

Bungling the Asante Trade From Start to Finish

Depending on which report you believe, the Eagles could have traded Asante Samuel before last season for either a second round pick or two third rounders. Now the Eagles look like they will have to get lucky just to pull out a fourth round pick in this inevitable deal.

What happened?

I don’t agree with some of the reporters who have suggested that the price drop is due to Samuel’s age or contract. He hasn’t gotten significantly older or more expensive in the last few months. His contract does go up, and he’s now 31. That’s true. But neither Samuel’s salary nor his age are prohibitive factors at this point. He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, and $10 million is reasonable for a top cornerback.

This is the point where people start to bring up Asante’s flaws as a player: he freelances too much, doesn’t know how to tackle, blows coverages more than you would like. For the most part, you wouldn’t be wrong to make that argument. But Samuel has demonstrated those same deficiencies his entire career. Before he ever arrived in Philly, we knew he couldn’t tackle, couldn’t resist gambling for interceptions — and you can bet that Detroit and whichever other teams inquired after him in 2011 knew those things as well.

Moreover, there’s little evidence to suggest that Samuel has fallen off since a year ago. His interception rate did drop, which has a lot to do with luck. His targets increased, but so would yours if you went from playing across from Dimitri Patterson to Nnamdi Asomugha. On a per target basis, Samuel was every bit as good in 2011 as he was in 2010 — and with an utter failure of a defensive coordinator to boot.

What has changed in the last few months is that the Eagles’ leverage in negotiations has evaporated. Having bungled the 2011 trade and alienated Samuel permanently, then installed a defensive coordinator who was completely unprepared to utilize three Pro Bowl cornerbacks, the front office created a buyer’s market for Asante. Everyone knows the team can’t afford, in the books or on the field, to keep Samuel for another year. He’s worth less to the Eagles than anyone else and they have no choice but to get rid of him.

Howie Roseman has largely been hailed as a great deal maker (often as an antidote to poor drafting results), but this whole Samuel situation was terribly handled, and it has and will continue to cost the team.

Inside Trent Cole's Contract Extension

Brian McIntyre has the details of Trent Cole’s contract. Here is the basic breakdown:

2012: $8 million signing bonus, plus original $3 million salary now guaranteed.
2013: Original $3.5 million salary now guaranteed.
2014: New $5 million salary (plus $500,000 $ack$-based bonus).
2015: New $10 million salary.
2016: New $11 million salary.
2017: New $14 million salary.

Cole turns 30 this year, which should give you a sense of which years are more or less fake money. To my eyes, the last three years all look unlikely. The Eagles gave Cole a lot of security by guaranteeing the final two years of his old contract and handing him a signing bonus on top of it. The 2014 additional year also looks attainable and very reasonably priced. After that, I don’t see the Eagles paying $10 million or more per year for a 33-year-old and up.

Still, don’t let that detract from what the deal really means. It’s not intended to purchase many more years of performance, but rather to serve as a thank you gift, a reward for Cole’s quiet excellence over the last few years. And in many ways, that’s more important.