Philadelphia Eagles: Jon Dorenbos

PHILADELPHIA – Numbers seldom tell the story when it comes to offensive line play. For the 2013 Eagles, though, these numbers were remarkably eloquent:

Jason Peters: 1,019.

Evan Mathis: 1,104.

Jason Kelce: 1,096.

Todd Herremans: 1,104.

Lane Johnson: 1,103.

[+] EnlargeJason Peters
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellJason Peters was one of two Philadelphia offensive linemen to earn a Pro bowl nod in 2013.
Those are the snap counts for the Eagles’ starting line, from left tackle to right tackle. Guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans played every single offensive snap. Right tackle Lane Johnson missed one play. Center Jason Kelce played 99 percent of the snaps. Left tackle Jason Peters, coming off two tears of the same Achilles tendon, played 92 percent.

A year after four of the five starting linemen were lost to injury, the Eagles enjoyed remarkable health at this most vital of positions. So it’s no surprise the line was one of the team’s strongest areas. Peters and Mathis were selected for the Pro Bowl. Kelce deserved to be.

The right side of the line wasn’t as strong, but that’s deceptive. The left side is the best in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. And the right had two players – veteran Herremans, who was relearning guard after playing tackle, and rookie Johnson – who improved noticeably as the season went on.

The line cleared the way for LeSean McCoy to lead the league in rushing and gave Nick Foles time to put up some unprecedented numbers and stake his claim to the starting quarterback spot.

There are two points to consider here. The first is that the Eagles aren’t lucky to win the injury-free lottery every year, so they will need depth behind the starting five. The other is that Peters, Mathis and Herremans are all over 30. Top reserve Allen Barbre will be 30 in June. So it makes sense to have some young linemen in development.

The Eagles do. One consequence of the starters’ health is that we never got to see any of them play.

In an interview with Bleeding Green Nation, Mathis cited Matt Tobin as a player to watch. The undrafted free agent from Iowa slipped ahead of Dennis Kelly, based on the weekly inactive list. At 6-foot-6, 290 pounds, Tobin is big enough to play tackle as well as guard.

And then there is Michael Bamiro, the 6-8, 340-pound project from Stony Brook. Bamiro spent the season working with offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and his assistant, the similarly mammoth former tackle Tra Thomas.

Can Tobin, Bamiro, Kelly and center Julian Vandervelde provide enough depth behind the starters and the versatile Barbre? There is probably enough talent and potential there to make the offensive line relatively low on the priority list.

That said, the position is too important for the Eagles to pass on a player they like in the draft. That is GM Howie Roseman’s philosophy, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Eagles drafted a lineman or two.

While we’re on the line, we should mention that long snapper Jon Dorenbos had another very fine season. It’s a position you don’t think much about until a mistake is made. Dorenbos, 33, doesn’t make anyone think about it.

Examining the special-teams breakdowns

September, 30, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- You know it was a rough game when the head coach resorts to comments like this the next day:

“And I think in special teams, aside from the punt block and that kickoff return, we are getting a decent job and decent effort out of those guys,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said.

And aside from that iceberg, the Titanic had a decent first voyage. Kelly has stressed the importance of special teams in everything from roster building to practice time allotted. So it is especially galling to have his kicking game blow up on him during a 52-20 drubbing in Denver on Sunday.

The kickoff return was a 105-yard sprint by speedster Trindon Holliday. Holliday fielded Alex Henery’s kick slightly to the Eagles’ left. Several players, including Najee Goode and Casey Matthews, drifted toward that side and got caught up in a crowd of blockers when Holliday made a decisive cut to their right.

Jeff Maehl, part of Kelly’s Oregon alumni club, had the outside edge. He was wiped out by safety Duke Ihenacho. That allowed Holliday to build up speed. Rookie cornerback Jordan Poyer ran right into a block by Steven Johnson, who body-slammed Poyer. That left Henery, who made a feeble effort as Holliday blazed by.

The punt block in the fourth quarter was simple carelessness.

“You can’t make mistakes like that,” Kelly said. “It wasn’t even a designed punt block. We had a guy trying to escape and get down the field too quick trying to cover the punt and not take care of the little things.”

The “little thing” in this case was blocking Johnson, who lined up between long-snapper Jon Dorenbos and Brandon Graham, who was at right guard. Colt Anderson was the up back on that side.

At the snap, Graham fired toward his right, allowing Johnson to run right by. Johnson grazed Dorenbos, who fired to his left to make a block. Anderson, who is likely the player Kelly described, ran downfield without noticing a defender rushing right past his spot. Johnson made the block easily, then scooped up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown.

“It's not like we put in a new scheme or something special for the Broncos game,” Kelly said. “And then you look at it, that scheme kind of backfired. It's base fundamental coverage and base fundamental protection and then coverage that we didn't get done on those two particular plays.”