Monday, March 16, 2009

Back From a Quiet Weekend

Sorry about the lack of posting over the weekend. I focused on watching college players and even some college basketball.

A couple of people have asked about the OL in relation to the struggles of the running game. Let's all understand this. The running game was a systematic failure. There isn't one person, position, or position group to blame.

Let's start with Westy. In the Arizona game he looked almost as good as he did all year. He still had a couple of plays in that game where he got out in space and only had one defender to beat. Westy didn't beat those defenders. His long run was only 17 yards. In 2007 Westy had 11 runs of 20 or more yards. That total fell to only 5 this year. Those runs came against teams with slow LBs (CIN, NYG, ATL). He only had 2 catches of 20+ yards. One was against the Giants on the TD. The other came against Washington when he was covered by a DT on a zone blitz.

Brian didn't have his normal acceleration, speed, cutting ability, or shiftiness. Injuries really did a number on him in 2008. Those are the traits that help him break short runs into medium runs and then some medium runs into long runs. Without that ability, Brian was mortal and fell into the "4 yards and a cloud of dust category".

His blocking didn't help the situation. Fullback is the first place to start. Thomas Tapeh was a solid lead blocker for 2 years. He wasn't a jackhammer, but he took on his targets and usually won. That element was missing from a lot of 2008. Tony Hunt showed some promise, but simply wasn't trained to be a FB. He didn't seal off defenders as well as was needed. Then Dan Klecko took over. He was better, but was still highly inconsistent. There were times when he'd floor a defender and look really good. There were other times when he was unsure who to block and would freeze.

Tight ends didn't help the situation. As much as Eagles fans hate to hear this, LJ Smith had times when he was a very good run blocker. He wasn't the awful blocker so many (including Mike Mayock) make him out to be. LJ's problem was inconsistency. He'd have a great game and then struggle the next 2 weeks. You couldn't count on him. He was in and out of the lineup this year as the team went more to Brent Celek. That was good for the passing game, but not the running game. LJ didn't have many strong games this year. Neither did Brent. And when the team put Matt "blocking isn't my cup of tea" Schobel on the field it was disastrous. See the Bears game for proof of that.

You don't expect your TEs to always be great blockers. Back in 2003 when the team ran the ball so well with Duce, Buck, and young Westy the TEs were LJ and Chad Lewis. That isn't exactly the most physical pair of guys in the world. They did enough to be effective. Effort goes a long way. LJ was just all over the place this year in terms of his play. Very erratic. Celek simply needs to get stronger. Schobel needs a bus ticket to oblivion...or Yellowknife, which ever is further away.

And now for the OL. They too were inconsistent this year. Watch the Arizona game and you see our guys playing at a high level. Watch part of the second Giants game and you see some good things. Then check out the playoff games. The OL struggled to open holes and sustain blocks.

My biggest beef is with the tackles. Tra has never been a good run blocker, but he really went down a notch this year. There were a few plays in the NFC-CG when he didn't block anyone. Unacceptable. Go jump on a pile and at least show me effort. Runyan wasn't the same guy we've come to know and love. He had some good moments, but didn't consistently get the kind of push we're used to.

Max played RG more than anyone during the season. He disappointed me. Max last year showed some real potential as a run blocker. I didn't see much of that in 2008. He had a couple of poor games. He supposedly was sick for one of them. Nick Cole took over in the 2nd half of the ARZ game and started the last month, plus the playoffs. I liked what I saw from Nick. He was especially effective on screen passes. His run blocking wasn't great, but I thought he was better than Max.

Jamaal and Todd manned C and LG all year long. I thought JJ was solid and Todd was our best OL. Jamaal has flat-lined since the '06 season when he looked like a Pro Bowl type player. We haven't seen that in either of the last two years. At the same time, he's hardly a bad player. Todd had an outstanding year as a run blocker. He did well vs DTs and was very good on LBs. Unfortunately Todd isn't a dominant kind of blocker. He's not a Shawn Andrews type who can consistently create massive running lanes. Todd gets his guy blocked, but he's not a special player. The loss of Andrews did hurt the OL. No question about that.

So how do we solve the running game?

We work on every part. We need to get Westy healthy. We need to add another talented RB to the mix. We must improve FB play. We need to add a TE who is more of a blocker.

The OL will look different. We don't yet know the exact configuration, but it will remain big and it will be younger than last year. Both elements should help them to run the ball more effectively.

I'm glad the Eagles saw the various malfunctions that led to the problems. They are addressing the different areas. If they just added a RB or just changed one OL or something like that, I'd be worried. Thankfully they see that this wasn't a one person or one position problem. Let's hope the solutions work and the Eagles are a much better running team in 2009. Don't give Big Red a reason not to run the ball. That just makes it too easy on him to dial up 45 passes.


shlynch said...

What do you think about Todd Herremans as a run blocker if he were to be at LT? Does his run blocking project to be relatively better out there, or is the "solid but not dominant" assessment likely to carry over from the inside? Clearly he would be better than Tra Thomas, who could seal but nothing else during his entire Eagle career. But relative to league average, how would he be as a run blocking left tackle?

Tommy Lawlor said...

I think Todd could be a good, possibly very good, run blocker at LT. He'd be paired up with DEs.

He wasn't the kind of mauler who could always drive big DTs off the ball. He did have his moments. He had a great block on the Arizona NT on a TD run in the Thanksgiving game.

Todd would still be good on LBs and he'd be a big improvement over Tra in space. Tra was so big and tall that he had to lunge for defenders. Todd is only an inch or so shorter, but is much better at blocking targets out in space. He might floor a few DBs, which could spring our RBs for really big gains.

izzylangfan said...

Thanks for this excellent analysis. With the two Andrews and Todd we might need a backup tackle but doesn't your analysis point towards drafting some interior linemen - possibly in the early rounds?

shlynch said...

Follow up question:

Let's assume that the Eagles plan to move Herremans out to LT. There is therefore an opening at LG. Now, let's further assume that they aren't especially psyched about any of the internal candidates for whatever reason (MJG is hurt, Cole is average at best, McGlynn is too raw, etc.)

If they wanted to fill that LG job in the draft, where would you look? You'd need a guy who you could draft and depend on to start. So it would have to be in the first two rounds. However, it wouldn't necessarily have to be a guy who could play tackle, though that is always nice.

So if you wanted to get a starting left guard, who would you be thinking at pick 21/28? How about at 53?

shlynch said...

Also, the same question would obviously apply at RG, if they moved Shawn Andrews to LT. Might be a different answer than LG, or it might not.

Tommy Lawlor said...

I think William Beatty would be a possibility at pick 28. He could play LG for us. Could play OT in the future.

We'd probably have to trade up in the 2nd to get Jamon Meredith. He could take over LG.

Duke Robinson is a player that I don't like, but he could be a target at LG with our 2nd.

Kraig Urbik has all his experience on the right side, but I would think a guy like him could play either G spot. Our 2nd might be early, but you go get him if you feel he's needed.

Max Unger could be a LG target. We'd have to take him at 28 or be prepared to trade up.

Andy Levitre might come into play. Our 2nd is probably early for him, especially considering he'd be moving from LT to LG.

I have Tyronne Green ranked as the #1 G prospect, but I'm clearly in the minority on that. I see him as a 3rd round type pick, but I know others have him lower.

Tommy Lawlor said...

@ izzy...

All depends on what the team thinks of the guys we have now. Do they really like Mike McGlynn and Chris Patrick? Do they think Mike Gibson can be a solid backup? Is Nick Cole part of the long term plan?

Actions speak louder than words. We'll know what the team thinks come draft weekend when they bring in some guys early or wait til later on.

shlynch said...

Sorry to prolong this game, but two follow-ups. First, if you didn't care if the guy could ever play tackle, you just wanted the best guard you could get, would you rate the OT/OG hybrids (Beatty/Meredity) over the more pure interior types (Robinson/Unger/Urbik)?

Second, let's say they took Meredith or Beatty in the first round. How would you handle the LT job? Would you say on draft day, "X is my LT, Y is my LG", and get your guys focused on learning a single role, or would you have Herremans and the draft pick go through minicamp and/or training camp and compete to show who is better at LT and who is better at LG?

Tommy Lawlor said...

1. Beatty
2. Unger
3. Meredith
4. Urbik
5. Robinson

Nothing is ever written in stone, but I would project Herremans to LT and the rookie to LG. In the past we could slide a guy in because we had such a stable lineup. That won't be the case this year. We have lots of change. I'd move these guys to designated spots and try to work on their comfort level at the new spots and build their confidence.

Tommy Lawlor said...

I really hope our OL looks like this:

LT - Todd H.
LG - Mike M.
OC - Jamaal J.
RG - Shawn A.
RT - Stacy A.

For the first part of the season that may be Nick Cole at RG and Shawn at RT.

Cliff said...

I agree with your sentiments when you say "actions speak louder than words." We've already gotten some clues to how the organizations views the OL after last season. Allowing Tra to walk and signing Stacey Andrews were HUGE indicators that Andy is not happy with the way his OL played this season, obviously. The next clue will come on Day 1 of the draft.

I'm most interested in McGlynn. When I visited Training Camp last August, the player who received the most attention and focus of Castillo was Dunlap. That could just mean because he's the "rawest" he needs the most work, but it was clear that they really wanted this late-round pick to succeed. I didn't pay much attention to McGlynn because he didn't stand out. That could be a good thing, I guess.

shlynch said...

Last question:

What about Alex Mack? Does he not profile as a guard? If he does, where would he fit on that list?

the hub said...

Tommy, Mike M. at LG? You want Mike Mamula to play LG - are you insane? ;-)

Tommy Lawlor said...

Mamula at OG is better than Harry Boatswain or Ian Beckles.

@ Lynch...

Mack could play G for us, but I don't think he'll come into play in this scenario. He isn't worth 28. He isn't likely to fall to our 2nd. I'm also not sure he's the kind of player you trade up for.

Unger started 2 years at LT. He could play either G spot, C, or possibly OT. That is one reason Andy could take him at 28. We do like versatile OL.

@ Cliff...

McGlynn was a guy they trusted on the field during the season. That shows you they have somewhat high hopes for him. We'll see how high.

Dunlap was a major project. He got the extra attention because he needed it and the payoff could be huge. This summer will be critical for him. Could make or break his career. He needs to show progress. Last year was a good start, but a guy like King cannot get complacent.

mcud77 said...

Alright, I'll be the one who says it.

To follow up on Lynch's line of questions, lets say the Eagles aren't able to pass on Andre Smith.

LG or LT? Or even RG?

izzylangfan said...

I just can't thank you enough for this wonderful discussion of the OL. It clarifies so much.

With that wish fulfilled lest move on the the next topic. I have long believed that the Eagles need to be more disruptive on defense and to make matters more complicated Dawkins six forced fumbles and other contributions are now lost. i was glad to see that the two recent safety additions had a combined 8 interceptions last year. So maybe we got some turnovers but what about general nastiness. I think that has to come from the front seven and therein lies the problem. The defensive tackles don't get enough pressure on the QB. I realize that Laws is still new and might turn out to be a good pass rusher. But what are the Odds of Bunkly and Patterson developing into disruptive pass rushers at this point.

Finally are the linebackers as good as all the hype. They don't create a lot of turnovers and Gocong doesn't seem to understand pass coverage. Jordan is always the best looking athelete in training camp and seems to be fast enough to play Will. Bradlely seems like a bear against the run and can cover. But I want them to create havoc! Am I wrong?

T_S_O_P said...


I think the answer depends on who wins elsewhere, but he'd surely add to the mix for all 3. IMO favorite for LG over McGlynn.

LT - between Shawn Todd and Andre
RT - Shawn Todd Stacy and Andre
LG - Mike M Nick Stacy Andre Todd
RG - Mike Nick Stacy Andre Shawn


How would Todd fare at RT?

T_S_O_P said...

Nice write up on TJ Lang on ScoutsNotebook, who IMO read similar to our own Mike McGlynn both in your piece and another source I read frequently.