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An Injury With A Ripple Impact

Posted Dec 27, 2012

The news emerged in the form of a press release, brief in its information, announcing that left tackle Jason Peters had ruptured his Achilles tendon training in Texas three days earlier ...

It was all so matter of fact, and certainly it was concerning to everyone who understood just how much Jason Peters meant to this Eagles offense. A Pro Bowl left tackle, Peters has risen to the upper echelon of his position, something head coach Andy Reid acknowledged in a statement that came out later in the day on March 30.

Little did we know then how much the injury would profoundly impact this 2012 Eagles season.

"We all know how much Jason loves to play the game and how much he was looking forward to the start of the 2012 season," said Reid. "Jason is one of the best, if not the best, offensive tackle in the NFL. We don't know when he will return to the field and we will not speculate on a timeline. We are just going to let the surgical process and the rehabilitation process play itself out.

"Howie (Roseman, general manager) and I will sort out the roster situation for the offensive line. We are glad to have King (Dunlap) back as a part of our offensive line and we will continue to scan the free agent market, also knowing the draft is less than a month away."

Surely, the Eagles would find a capable replacement for Peters. Nobody expected the team to sign a free agent who was a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but a combination of free agency and the draft would be sufficient for the Eagles to move on without Peters and to build the kind of continuity the offensive line enjoyed in the latter stages of the 2011 season.

Fast forward to now. Left tackle has been a problem area for the Eagles for much of the season. The ripple effect of losing Peters has been enormous to an offensive line that also suffered the injury losses of center Jason Kelce and right tackle Todd Herremans

A fivesome that came together so well for the second half of the 2011 season was ripped apart in 2012 by the injuries. As a result, and there is no way to escape the correlation, the Eagles rank second-worst in the league in this extremely significant statistic: Percentage of total points allowed after giveaways.

You know that the Eagles have turned the ball over 36 times, which ranks ahead of only the Chiefs this season. Making matters worse, the Eagles have allowed 129 points off of the giveaways, the highest number in the league. Of the team's 402 points permitted, 32.1 percent have come after Eagles giveaways, better than only the Pittsburgh Steelers' percentage of 36.2. Of those 129 points allowed after offensive turnovers, 49 were scored directly off of returns, while another 80 were scored against the Eagles defense.

"It obviously wasn't a good reaction when you lose who I honestly think is the best tackle in football," said left guard Evan Mathis when asked if he remembered the day he found out about Peters' injury. "So, you're already in an uphill battle right there. I thought we finished last year improving every single game as an offensive line and then the whole thing is shaken up early in the offseason and then the whole thing continues on when we kept losing guys to injury.

"We didn't lose an average lineman. We didn't lose someone who is easily replaceable. You'd have to plug some very good players from other teams to even try to replace Jason Peters."

The Eagles felt they would have the answers to replace Peters as they signed Dunlap, a serviceable backup for much of his career here, to a one-year contract prior to announcing the Peters injury. A few days later the Eagles added young veteran Demetress Bell to the team. Bell, a valued unrestricted free agent, had stated for three years in Buffalo and was the kind of athletic, rangy player who would fit in well in Howard Mudd's blocking scheme.

In April, the team used a fifth-round draft pick on Dennis Kelly, who had manned the position so well at Purdue.

So, while none of those players was Peters -- and the Eagles never pretended that they were going to have a seamless transition -- the hope was that Bell would blossom in Mudd's scheme and that Dunlap would prove to be a fine backup and that Kelly could be the swing tackle/guard who could step in as needed.

Bell never came around. He's played in nine games and has started five and he hasn't come close to assimilating into Mudd's blocking scheme. Dunlap has been adequate some of the time, but he's also committed a lot of penalties and has allowed too much pressure off the edge to suit the offense. Kelly has done a nice job stepping in for Herremans on the other side of the line at the right tackle position and he is someone to develop for the future.

In retrospect, the loss of Peters was devastating and, the truth is, the Eagles never recovered. The invested heavily in Bell and missed on him. Dunlap is best suited as a swing backup.

Nobody came close to playing at the Pro Bowl level Peters delivered to this offense.

Mathis, at left guard, has done a very good job overcoming the loss of his next-door neighbor to play well this season and the hope is that when Peters returns in 2013 the two of them resume the chemistry they developed in '11 and that the Eagles can get back to the business of having one of the best left sides of the line of scrimmage in the NFL.

Of all of the players the Eagles have lost to injury in 2012, none has had the residual impact that Peters' absence has had. It seemed serious at the time, but the hope was that the Eagles had filled the hole -- at least partially -- by bringing Bell on board, by retaining Dunlap and by drafting Kelly.

No dice. There will no more welcome sign when the Eagles step on the field in the spring at the NovaCare Complex than seeing No. 71 at left tackle, taking care of business. They say you don't know how much you will miss somebody until he's gone. The Eagles learned that lesson this season once they lost Peters and never found an answer at the position he dominated.

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