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Fan-Demonium: Big Uglies Are Looking Good

Posted Oct 19, 2011


The first person I ever heard use the phrase "big uglies" was legendary college football announcer Keith Jackson. That was a term of endearment he used to describe offensive linemen. I've always liked the term. Some linemen embrace it while others fight it. Whether you want to call the Eagles offensive linemen big uglies, elephants on parade, or whatever new phrase is out there, it doesn't really matter. Right now those guys are looking pretty good.

The offensive line was a major question mark coming into the season. There were new starters all over the place. There was no continuity. There was a new scheme. A lot of people worried whether the line would be functional or not. Well, it has done more than just function. The line has played pretty well at times. There are definitely some issues to fix, but the amount of progress made by the line in six games is pretty amazing.

On Sunday, the Eagles had some shuffling to do. Todd Herremans moved from right tackle to the left side. Winston Justice, at less than 100 percent, took over at right tackle. Right guard Danny Watkins made the second start of his young career. Going up against the Redskins and their Top 10 defense wasn't going to be easy.

The Eagles offensive line played well and was a big reason the team won the game. The line opened some massive holes for LeSean McCoy, who ran 28 times for 126 yards. I think that was the best game of McCoy's young career. He had a lot of carries and yards. He moved the chains. He helped put the game away late with some good running. McCoy ran for 149 yards last year in Dallas and that was a great showing, but their defense wasn't as good as Washington's. Plus, the season wasn't on the line the way it was on Sunday.

The offensive line isn't a traditional group. Eagles fans are used to Jon Runyan, Shawn Andrews and Jamaal Jackson just mauling guys at the line of scrimmage. They opened running lanes with brute strength and over-powering force. Fans watch the current Eagles line and don't see blocking like that.

The running game now isn't about getting in the I-formation and blowing guys off the ball. The Eagles have adapted running and blocking to fit the players and coaches. The Eagles are most dangerous when running from the shotgun and spread sets. There are two standout plays. One is simple. You have the line flow in a direction. McCoy then gets the ball on the backside of that and has the option of going with the line or looking to the backside for a cutback lane. If there is daylight on the backside, he goes there. This has led to some big gains.

The other play is a draw from the shotgun. Vick sprints over and hands the ball to McCoy. It looks odd, but works well. McCoy gets the ball deep. The offensive tackle is supposed to shove the pass rusher along. He wants the rusher to get in the backfield. That creates a gap where McCoy can run to. The tackle then spins upfield and goes for a linebacker. Both Peters and Herremans have done this well. Herremans did it early in the Redskins game and floored safety O.J. Atogwe with a great block out in space.


Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He was a finalist for Philadelphia's Most Influential Blogger Award.

Go watch an Eagles game from 2003. You won't see stuff quite like this. You'll see a much more traditional running game. Back then the team used a lot of Ace formation (two tight ends, two wide receivers). Brian Westbrook was terrific in that setup. The offense could run from that look. They could throw screens passes to Westbrook. They could also go play-action to the tight ends and wide receivers.

The line has an interesting challenge in blocking for McCoy. He has great lateral explosion. He can cut left and then come back to the right in one second. You never know where he is going to be at a given moment. That is OK because of the style of blockers now on the line. Kelce is exceptional at adjusting on the move and still taking out defenders. He also has great hands. He tries to keep his hands on defenders at all times.

I think by this time next year Kelce will be a hated player by rival teams. He has a great motor. He is athletic enough to block anyone, anywhere. Defenders can be 20 yards downfield chasing a runner and suddenly Kelce comes from nowhere to get on them. Guys hate that. They want to focus on the ball. Now they have to keep their head on a swivel, as the old football saying goes. Where's Kelce?

Watkins also has a chance to be someone that defenders will hate. You ever go play backyard basketball and there is one friend who guards you as if he's trying to make the NBA's All-Defensive team? That's Watkins. He is tenacious. He sticks with his blocks really well. There was a play Sunday where he drove a defender five or more yards away from the scrum. Watkins wasn't settling for keeping the guy out of the play. He was going to stick with the block until he heard the whistle.

Watkins does need to get better with the mental side of things. He had a costly missed block on fourth down on Sunday. He's still trying to figure out who to block. You can see his physical ability. He's strong. He anchors well. He's athletic enough to block out in space. Watkins does have the potential to be a Pro Bowl player. Watkins needs experience more than anything.

I never thought I'd say this, but the Eagles have the most athletic offensive line in the NFL. I'm not sure the number two team is even close. Kelce has unique ability at center. If he can iron out some issues, Kelce could become a special player. I can't believe Mathis was available this summer. He's a perfect fit for the Mudd scheme. Even when he does give ground at times, Mathis uses his hands well and stays between the defender and the ball.

Think about screen passes. Peters had great blocks in the Atlanta game as he helped pave the way for Jeremy Maclin to score on a receiver screen. Herremans had a good block 30 yards downfield in the Bills game that helped DeSean Jackson score on a receiver screen. These guys all run well and they are willing to do it. Some of the Eagles bigger linemen in the past would run here and there, but it wasn't in their nature to hustle 20 and 30 yards downfield to block. If they did try, there was no guarantee of success.

I love the fact the line has been able to play reasonably well no matter who is out there. King Dunlap is one of three players to start at left tackle. Winston Justice is one of two guys to start at right tackle. Kyle DeVan started the first four games at right guard.

The return of Peters and the continued improvement of Kelce and Watkins could make the offensive line something special. The players and system fit each other. The line must get better at blitz protection, especially Kelce and Watkins. Knowing who to block is every bit as important as having the physical ability to go block them. Those guys have made some bad mistakes in the past two games. There have also been some costly penalties. Watkins washed away a touchdown in Buffalo with a hands to the face penalty.

The line is far from a finished product. There will be some ups and downs. That's OK if the mistakes can be fixed and if the coaches/players are working on them. Mudd is a great coach. He's got the players to make his system work. If they can put all the pieces together and get things corrected, this is one set of big uglies that could end up being beautiful.

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