Last week in Dallas, the Eagles went to war with a new-look offensive line.
When center Jamaal Jackson was lost for the year in week 16, right guard Nick Cole slid to center to replace Jackson and Max Jean-Gilles was inserted into the lineup at right guard.
A full week of practice leading up to last week's game allowed for the revamped unit to gain a semblance of continuity, and the results were, as head coach Andy Reid said earlier in the week, "respectable." Donovan McNabb was generally given adequate time in the pocket, but he was also sacked four times, including once on a bad snap from Cole that resulted in a lost fumble.
Nick Cole "actually played pretty well," Reid said. "Max was okay too. Max did alright."
The most positive aspect moving forward for the Eagles' offensive line is that the more time they have together, the better it will be.
"Max did fine, he did well," said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. "I would expect all of those guys to kick it up just a notch for this game. They have a game of experience with two new guys there out of the five. They have one game experience, so I would expect us to be a little bit better as a unit this ball game.
"With a new center, a new right guard, a silent count; I think we'll be better at that. We kind of pride ourselves at being one of the best in the league with going on the road in a loud stadium. I think Nick did a fine job there, he really did; did a fine job. Now I think we'll be even a little bit better. I think that will calm some of the other things down as well."
It has been a season in flux along the Eagles' offensive line. Projected right tackle Shawn Andrews didn't play a down in the regular season. His brother, projected right guard Stacy Andrews, never fully recovered from off-season knee surgery. Plus, left guard Todd Herremans missed the first six weeks of the season with a foot injury and left tackle Jason Peters also missed time with a knee injury.
"I think (an extra week of practice will help) because you can never get too many reps at it," said starting right tackle Winston Justice, the only player along the offensive line to start all 16 regular season games at the same position. "That's all we're doing this week and we're getting better."
Familiarity is an important factor on the offensive line, and for the Eagles in general, according to left guard Todd Herremans. Herremans said that the experience of playing the Cowboys in Dallas last week should benefit the team this week.
"The more you play together with the same guys, the more cohesive you're going to be and things will run smoother," he said. "Also, it's not going to be the first time we went down to this new stadium and see all the crazy lights and dancers and what not, you know, we've been there before now."
As Justice put it, the return trip to Dallas is a chance for the Eagles, and their maulers up front, to prove what they can do.
"I really feel we have a lot to improve on," Justice said. "This is a perfect opportunity to show the improvements we've made."
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 4:13 p.m., January 7