Philadelphia Eagles Have a Guard Problem
Nov 27, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Philadelphia Eagles guard Evan Mathis (69) on the sidelines during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Philadelphia beat Dallas 33-10. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
After ten seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, the team released guard Todd Herremans in February. I questioned the release when it happened because I believe the 32-year-old Herremans still has good football left in his tank, and the move leaves just two true guards (Evan Mathis and Josh Andrews) on the Eagle’s current roster. Rumors are flying that head coach Chip Kelly is looking to trade Evan Mathis, which of course would potentially leave the Eagles with one true guard. Tackle Andrew Gardner was plugged into the guard position due to injuries in 2014 and played admirably, while tackles Matt Tobin, Allen Barbre, and Dennis Kelly all had stints at guard as well. None of the current roster options, in my opinion, offer a solid long-term solution to the gap left by Herremans and the prospects of losing Mathis; the Philadelphia Eagles have a guard problem.
Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme has brought new life and a new look to the NFL. It’s difficult to come up with innovations that work in professional football, but to Kelly’s credit, he’s brought his high-octane spread offense into the league and for the most part he’s been successful. But, Kelly’s scheme stalled against the best defenses his team faced last season. Philadelphia struggled to run the ball in the Week 4 loss to San Francisco, Week 8 loss to Arizona, Week 11 loss to Green Bay, Week 14 loss to Seattle, Week 15 loss to Dallas, and the Week 16 loss to Washington. So, the natural reaction would be to go out and get a stud running back, right?
Kelly delivered on that requirement by snagging the 2014’s rushing leader, running back DeMarco Murray and solid contributor RB Ryan Mathews. Couple those two with current running back Darren Sproles and you could argue the Eagles have the best backs in the NFL. There’s one problem, though. Those backs have to run behind an offensive line; more specifically the type of north-south between-the-tackle runners Kelly has procured for his team work best with lanes through the middle of opposing defensive lines. One of if not the biggest reason DeMarco Murray had a career season in 2014 was because he ran behind the substantial holes created by Dallas Cowboys first round draft pick center Travis Frederick, outstanding guard Ronald Leary, and first round draft pick guard Zack Martin. Those guys were absolute road-graders the entire season.
I’ve watched the NFC East for over 30 years of my life. One thing that has been consistent about winning what I believe to be the toughest division in the NFL is solid offensive line play. The NFC East champions almost always have a superior offensive line. In going back to the state of Philadelphia’s offensive line, it is very clear to me that the Eagles do not have a line to win the East. If Kelly trades away Mathis, the team will be at least two guards away from a top quality o-line. With an aging tackle Jason Peters and tackle Lane Johnson playing well but not superior, one could argue the line is a long way away from being great. Chip needs to realize that the Beast (NFC East) is won through the offensive and defensive lines. Overpaying for “splash” players like Murray and corner Byron Maxwell are great for headlines and ticket sales, but the big men on the line will win championships.