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It All Starts Up Front For Eagles Offense

Doug Pederson believes in running the football. He believes in imposing his team's will at the line of scrimmage. He believes in investing in the offensive line, something the Eagles got away from these last few seasons.

"You've got to run the football when it is called and you have to win at the line of scrimmage," the Eagles' head coach said. "It all starts up front. It's something I believe in very much."

Kansas City won up front in 2015 and the play of the offensive line helped an attack overcome the loss of star running back Jamaal Charles and rank sixth in the NFL in rushing and second with only 15 giveaways. Kansas City won 11 straight games before losing in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs.

Anyway, there are questions about the Eagles' offense, and we know them well. Who plays quarterback in 2016? What is the picture at wide receiver? And how do the Eagles upgrade the offensive line, a hallmark of the team's year-after-year playoff run in the early 2000s when stability ruled the day and the Eagles had a solid, consistent group starting up front.

What can the Eagles count on as they look at the roster right now, three weeks before free agency begins on March 9? They have right tackle Lane Johnson signed, sealed and delivered with a long-term contract. Same with Jason Kelce, who remains a top center despite an uneven 2015 campaign. Left tackle Jason Peters didn't have his best season in '15, but when he's right and on his game, there are few better. The Eagles are counting on Peters to be healthy and happy and outstanding this season.

There are questions about the guard spots after the ups and downs of the 7-9 season that has just passed. The Eagles replaced Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans with Andrew Gardner, Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin and the results were mixed. There is going to be a lot of demand for internal improvement as the system changes, and maybe that helps quite a bit. The expectation here is that Pederson will play more power football, which should fit what line coach Jeff Stoutland wants to teach to players who want to be physical and driving in their approach.

But it also wouldn't be surprising if the Eagles address the line in free agency, the draft or both. The goal is to dominate the offensive line and to put together a fivesome that stays together and builds some continuity for years to come. Peters, a six-time Pro Bowl player as an Eagle, turned 34 years old in January. Barbre turns 32 in June. The Eagles need to build the offensive pipeline behind just the starters, of course. They need to get to the point where they are seven, eight and nine players deep along the line. 

They need to invest in the offensive line.

Stoutland's task is to improve what he already has on the roster -- take Johnson to the next level, help Tobin become a reliable starter, get some of the backups like Dennis Kelly and Josh Andrews and Barrett Jones and unknowns like Malcolm Bunche and Brett Boyko up to snuff. Maybe the new offense helps a lot and the offensive line benefits from huddling and playing a more traditional brand of offense. Maybe all of that hurry-up-and-get-snaps offense of the past three seasons wore out the offensive linemen, contributed to the many mental mistakes that were made and added to the holding penalties and false starts that killed so many drives last year.

It's also important that the Eagles keep their eyes open for all available upgrades. They need athletes and they need physical linemen. They need standouts. They need to have a great offensive line to accomplish the ultimate goal. 

This isn't going to be easy. The entire NFL is going through the same thing. Offensive linemen are scarce. The paradigm has shifted in the league: the defense now has the advantage and the rest of the NFL is going to try to copy what the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers did on their respective marches to Super Bowl 50. Pass rushers are the rage now, and offensive lines are paying the price.

There is no question that quarterback is the headline-grabbing story of the offseason for the Eagles. They need the right answers there. Wide receiver is a position that requires a much better performance than in 2015. Ranking right up there, though, among the team's top needs for now and the future is the offensive line. After years of draft neglect, the Eagles need help up front. Major help. Without the wins at the line of scrimmage, the offense can't execute the vision Pederson and his coaching staff have running this "hybrid" West Coast offense in Philadelphia.

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