Come the first offensive snap Thursday night, Evan Mathis will become the only offensive player to have started all 14 games this season for the Eagles. If it weren't for the Cincinnati Bengals' lack of faith in Mathis, he wouldn't be here in the first place.
Mathis joined the Eagles last summer as a free agent after two-plus seasons with the Bengals in which he played 26 games and started seven (all in 2009). The Bengals, Mathis says, didn't consider him to be a starting-caliber player, so he set out to find a new home. Though the Eagles didn't sign Mathis with the expectation that he'd become a first-team stalwart, that's how things worked out after Mathis moved to left guard following Todd Herremans' move from guard to tackle.
Since then, Mathis has played and started in 28 of 29 games for the Eagles, earning himself a rich long-term contract along the way. Though he did not practice Tuesday because of an ankle injury, Mathis is listed as probable for Thursday night's game. Mathis says he holds no grudge with his former teammates, though there's surely some semblance of pride in having proved himself worthy as a starter.
Thursday night's task will be especially difficult for Mathis, who will be charged, at times, with blocking perhaps the league's premier defensive tackle in Geno Atkins. Atkins, 6-1, 300, leads all interior defensive linemen with 10.5 sacks. He was a rookie during Mathis' final season in Cincinnati.
"Geno is one of the most productive defensive tackles in football right now," Mathis said. "He is a very smart player, incredibly gifted physically. He has tremendous strength and when you combine all that with someone who plays lights out, just physically non-stop, then you have someone who can be dangerous."
"I could tell he was good right away. He was so strong ... He's short and he gets low, he gets down there. He's very talented. He'll definitely be a challenge."
Atkins isn't the only player Mathis will have to worry about, especially after Nick Foles was sacked six times by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. Indeed, the Bengals lead the league with 42 sacks on the season. Do they have the best defensive line the Eagles have faced this season?
"It's up there," Mathis said. "They show a good amount of looks, but we've seen a lot this year. We've had some good meetings and seen a lot of the film already, so we're getting accustomed to that pretty quickly."
The Eagles do have one thing going for them this week, though, as Mathis points out. For the first time in two months, they're coming off a win.
"That losing streak we were on was terrible," Mathis said. "But you do see it. We have that taste in our mouth again, for what a win tastes like, what it feels like and it's something that we don't want to be fleeting like it was last time. We want to hold onto it and play for that every single week."
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