Isaac Seumalo has started exactly 10 games at the left guard position in his three-year NFL career, so when he talks about the “game slowing down” for him, he really means it. He’s still developing, and just how much progress he makes in the next five weeks will help determine the Eagles’ playoff chances.
“I think I’m playing pretty good,” Seumalo said at his NovaCare Complex locker on Wednesday as the Eagles started preparations for Monday night’s NFC East tilt against Washington. “There are always things to improve on, but I feel like I’m making good progress. I am seeing things and I’m playing faster. I need to keep improving, keep pushing to get better and better.”
Why is Seumalo such a key? He’s part of the offensive line and the offensive line starts everything. It’s too simplistic to say that if the Eagles' offensive line is playing well, the offense is playing well, but it’s really not that far off. Seumalo is the new piece, inserted into the starting lineup seven games ago and still learning. Always learning. Seumalo had been a rotational player in his first two seasons after the Eagles made him a third-round draft choice in 2016 – he opened 2017 as the starting left guard but was replaced by Stefen Wisniewski after two games – and now he’s settling down, settling in.
He feels the difference when he’s playing. He sees the difference when he’s watching film.
And slowly but surely, with a huge test coming on Monday night against the Redskins, the offensive line is growing as Seumalo grows.
“Playing together always helps,” Seumalo said. “The more you are out there together, the more you know the players around you. I think that’s part of the improvement.”
For the Eagles to defeat Washington on Monday, they’re going to need a strong performance from the offensive line, one that has been plagued by injuries and, with that, inconsistency this season. Left tackle Jason Peters has started every game and has played in 82 percent of the offensive snaps despite battling through a biceps injury. Center Jason Kelce has been hampered with ailments that he’s played with. Right tackle Lane Johnson missed the Dallas game with a knee injury and, while he’s far from 100 percent, continues to play.
A season ago the Eagles lost Peters and had the change at left guard, but otherwise the offensive line was solid and stout and dominating.
This year, the line has had its ups and downs. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland sees an upswing and just in time with the stretch run here.
“The thing about offensive football is that there is so much timing required and so much precision that if one player is off, the play can backfire on you,” Stoutland said. “I think we’re playing good football. I think we’re making the right kind of progress.”
Washington’s front seven is among the best in the league. Weakside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is a handful for every offensive tackle in the league and opposite of him, Preston Smith plays the strong side well. The Redskins feature 2017 first-round draft pick Jonathan Allen and 2018 first-round pick Daron Payne up front along with highly productive tackle Matt Ioannidis.
Make no mistake, the Redskins are about as good as it gets at the line of scrimmage.
“I see a very stout, very physical (group), great against the run, they’re giving up about 100 (rushing) yards a game, a little more than that, I think they’re eighth in the NFL,” Stoutland said. “They’re very, very good against the run. When you get them in third down, they’ve got multiple pressure packages, multiple twists and pop stunts and picking people and trying to knock you off and then loop a guy around so that you can’t (adjust).
“So, it’s going to be challenging. Our players, we got a little flavor of it today (in film study). Really good front. That’s the strength of their team, the front seven.”
Kerrigan is the leader the pack and he’s been tough to handle for the Eagles. In 14 games against Philadelphia, Kerrigan has 10.5 quarterback sacks. He’s dynamic. He’s relentless. He’s going to need to be contained.
“He’s a very talented player but he also plays extremely hard all the time,” Stoutland said. “He’s always, always hustling. He’s always playing as hard as he can. He never lets up. He’s a great player.”
We’re still early in the week here. The vibe at the NovaCare Complex is one of confidence after Sunday’s comeback win over New York, but it’s also one that understands there is a lot of football ahead in this season. The Eagles are playing catch-up in the NFC East. Just as they were on Sunday, the Eagles are in must-win mode against Washington in the second of three straight games against NFC East opponents.
“We know it’s a big game,” Seumalo said. “They all are, especially at this time in the season. We need to keep winning and get some momentum going.”
More than anything, that’s going to be the theme every week the rest of the 2018 regular season. Just win, Eagles. Let the offensive line, one that wanted to run the football on Sunday against the Giants and then delivered by winning the line of scrimmage, lead the way.