The Eagles are on a five-game winning streak. In that stretch, the team is averaging almost 32 points a game. The headliners are Donovan McNabb, DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, Leonard Weaver and Jason Avant. We've seen a ton of big plays and exciting touchdowns. None of that happens without good blocking. As much as anything, the development of the offensive line is the key to the hot streak.
Jason Peters started slowly this year. It took him some time to adapt to the offense and also to the blocking scheme. Buffalo had a different style of blocking. Peters became accustomed to that. Dropping into pass sets the way Juan Castillo wanted it done was something that had to be learned and then improved. Peters has dealt with some injuries along the way. Two of the four losses on the season were games where he missed time.
In the last couple of months, Peters has settled in and played like an outstanding left tackle. He's given McNabb the kind of backside pass protection a good quarterback needs. Peters is the best run blocking left tackle we've had in a long, long time. He gets good push on in-line blocks and he's athletic enough to get out in space on screens or outside runs. I was ecstatic when the Eagles acquired Peters. Any fan who questioned the move should be pretty satisfied at this point. Peters should be even better next season when he's really comfortable with the offense and techniques.
Todd Herremans was our best blocker in 2008. He missed the first part of this season with an injury. His return to the line has had a huge effect. Two hugely important aspects to good line play are stability and continuity. Herremans' return solidified the lineup. That allowed Nick Cole to shift to right guard full time.
I don't know if Herremans has the national reputation to get into the Pro Bowl, but he deserves it. He has had an outstanding season since getting on the field. Herremans is a good run blocker. He's not a mammoth guard like Leonard Davis of the Cowboys, but Herremans fires off the ball and packs some pop when he hits. He is very good at blocking on the second level, whether going after linebackers or defensive backs. He's got the power to floor linebackers, but is agile enough to get the smaller guys as well.
Jamaal Jackson is having a good year. He isn't a star player, but Jackson is very important to the success of the line. He makes all the line calls and blitz adjustments. Jackson is good in pass protection. He's so bulky that defenders won't have success bull rushing him. Jackson has excellent lateral quickness. That helps on runs and passes. In our system, we ask him to do what is called ""reach blocking."" That is when he has to step hard to the left or right at the snap. His job is to engage the defensive tackle already shaded to one side. That frees up the guard to that side to go block a linebacker or another defender. Jackson is very good at reach blocks. Not all guys his size can say that. He's also effective on screens. It isn't always pretty to watch him running in space, but he gets the job done. We'll save the style points for DeSean Jackson.
Right guard was a trouble spot for the early part of the season. Max Jean-Gilles didn't play as well as hoped. Stacy Andrews was slow to come back from his injury and adjust to the new scheme and surroundings. Cole was the best player. The problem was that he shifted between right and left guard. Since Herremans returned from his injury, Cole has been able to stay on the right side. For a few games he split time with Andrews, but the coaches ended that experiment and made Cole the full-time starter. He has shown that he can be an effective starter. Cole doesn't stand out in any way, but he gets the job done. He is at his best on run plays. That allows him to get off the ball and go attack defenders. He will struggle with some athletic pass rushers. Pass protection isn't his strong suit.
Finally, we come to Winston Justice. The early-season shock of his success is over at this point. He is simply a good right tackle. Justice is good on runs and pass plays. He is very good when allowed to down block. He can really cave in defensive tackles. He does this on some run plays to his side. He is strong enough to control defensive ends. Justice is a good athlete and is good in space. Against the 49ers he had a great cut block, another move that requires agility and body control.
The most exciting thing about Justice is that he can still get better. There are times in pass protection when he can look a bit tentative. He moves his feet well, but won't always aggressively lock onto defenders. We have seen glimpses of his full potential this year. There are times when he's confident, strong and physical. I don't know that Justice will ever push for a Pro Bowl spot, but it will be interesting to see how good he is after a full off-season and training camp as the starter.
I can't talk about blocking without giving some credit to the skill players who also chip in. Celek is having a great year catching the ball, but I've also been very impressed with his blocking in recent weeks. Celek isn't a rugged, physical tight end, but he uses good positioning and effort to make his blocks. Alex Smith has done a terrific job of blocking. We actually went so far as to set up a play for him. We line Smith up behind the line of scrimmage. At the snap we have him go left and execute a trap block. Trap blocks are almost always done by guards. We used Jon Runyan on the tackle trap on a regular basis. Now, we have the tight end trap. The play works pretty well.
Weaver gets a lot of attention for his running and receiving. He has proven to be a solid lead blocker on run plays. He'll never be a jackhammer like Lorenzo Neal, but Weaver wins most of his battles. He is a very good pass blocker. He knows who to block and he has the size and strength to stonewall blitzers.
The best blocker among the receivers is Avant and it isn't even close. You could probably spend a whole game just watching him on every snap and be highly entertained. Avant is relentless on run plays. He will block defensive backs until the whistle or maybe even the echo of the whistle. Avant is also comfortable taking on bigger players. We sometimes will have him line up tight to the formation and take on a linebacker or defensive end. Not only is Avant willing to do it, he's good at it. We sometimes use him to chip on ends on pass plays. That is when we line up Avant tight to the formation and have him put a shoulder on a pass rusher before going out on his pass route. This helps in pass protection, but also allows us to use Avant as a receiver.