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The Big Question: The Missing Element?

Posted Jan 19, 2015

Welcome to The Big Question. Every Monday during the offseason, Dave Spadaro, Chris McPherson and Bo Wulf will debate one of the hot topics surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles. We invite fans to continue the discussion in the comments section. Enjoy ... 

CM: Okay, fellas. This week’s question, what element would you add to the Eagles’ offense? Take it away.

DS: The single element I would like to add, or more accurately, reinstate, is a dominating offensive line. It was so good in 2013 when all five starters stayed healthy and started every game and the offense soared – equal parts devastating with explosive (plus-20 yards) plays in the passing game and a ground attack that was outstanding as LeSean McCoy led the NFL. It is no coincidence that the lack of continuity up front in 2014 hampered the offense, increased the giveaways, contributed to the struggles in the red zone and took away chances for the passing game down the field.

Can we expect Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson to remain healthy for 16 games in 2015? No. It’s tough to do, especially with Peters, Mathis and Herremans well into their 30s and with Mathis and Herremans coming off of injuries. The Eagles need to stay healthy up front, yes, but it would not shock me to see them try to add a piece to challenge for playing time.

I want a great offensive line. I want a dominating offensive line. I want the best offensive line in football. Make this line that great and the offense will be awesome and the turnovers will be minimized and the red zone play will improve and the Eagles will be deadly in every area offensively.

I saw what the Dallas Cowboys did with their offensive line and how it manifested in such a powerful offense in 2014. The Eagles need to win the trenches every week with the offensive line – whether that means improvement from within or whether they add a key piece in free agency, the draft or both.

CM: There isn’t a lot that I feel needs to be added. Talent-wise, I feel the offense is in a good place, especially if the Eagles can re-sign Jeremy Maclin. There’s always room for improvement, no question.
 
I like Dave’s idea of fortifying the offensive line. I think the column he wrote on the key plays the Eagles were unable to capitalize on in 2014 – third-and-short situations – is an area where the team must get better in order to sustain drives. A stronger offensive line and a better run game would also help curtail the turnover disease which plagued this team last season.

I can see a lot of fans will argue for the addition of a more explosive element in the pass game. The Eagles still finished third in the league in explosive plays last season with 75. I think the return of Nick Foles will help with that as the team was tied for seventh in such plays in the second half of 2014 without the starting quarterback.
 
If there’s one element that I’m craving it would be seeing more of LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles on the field at the same time. According to NFL GSIS, the Eagles deployed the two on the field together for a total of 39 snaps in 2014. I understand the desire to maintain Sproles’ workload, but he is someone who defenses have to respect and he’s someone whom they obviously did with the way he was double-teamed in the pass game last year.

DS: Chip Kelly and Pat Shurmur can use McCoy and Sproles together more if the offensive line is winning the battle up front. I'm all for that duo on the field together. It's not traditional. It reminds of the Phoenix Suns spreading the floor in the NBA and attacking with all of those guards, or of the Atlanta Hawks doing it with a smaller lineup. I know that size does matter in the NFL, but I'm with you on having those two together more, if possible.

BW: Can I cop out and say the element I want added to the offense is ball security? Of course, there’s no doubt that the relative lack of health and performance along the offensive line played a major role in the Eagles’ abundance of turnovers. I think we all would guess that the Eagles likely would have protected the ball much better had the big five up front maintained their health and quality of play from 2013 (the Allen Barbre injury remains perhaps the most underrated of the season in terms of its impact on the course of the season).
 
But if I can turn the focus back to the quarterback again, and this is well-worn territory, Nick Foles, if he is indeed the man, simply can’t make some of the throws he made in 2014. No one is expecting 27-and-2 again, but surely there’s a middle ground between his historic ball security in 2013 and the charity of turnovers in 2014.
 
Aside from that, I do think the Eagles could use a little more juice on the outside opposite Jeremy Maclin. I expect Josh Huff to make a serious leap in 2015.

DS: Fair enough. You can cop out. I think we're kind of all on the same page in the sense that the dictum in football is when you win the line of scrimmage, good things happen. Nick Foles enters his fourth season and he knows he has to improve and minimize the turnovers and improve his accuracy down the field. Good for him. He's a hard worker. He'll continue to get better. What will make him even stronger and more complete is an offensive line that plays at the top, top, top level for 16 weeks. It's kind of a chicken-or-the-egg question: Does a great running back/quarterback/wide receiver make the offensive line better, or is it the other way around? I tend to believe the latter is true. And the Eagles have enough talent up front to substantially nudge that group back to being the best in the NFL. Do that, and the rest of the offense falls into place.

BW: I’ll quickly add that I think a healthy Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson can each take a jump to elite next season, which would obviously go a long way in returning the line to glory.

CM: The key is what the Eagles think of the depth of the offensive line after so many young players got a chance to be thrown into the mix this past season. And, I agree on Huff. He could potentially quench the thirst that fans have for an additional explosive element to the offense.

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