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Immediate Issue Is On O Line

Posted Nov 7, 2012

As many take the big-picture and what's-going-to-happen approach with the Eagles, the coaches and players have to fixate on Dallas, and for the offense, that means finding a workable situation at the line of scrimmage ...

I know where the Eagles are right now: 3-5, losers of four straight games, with a must-win contest against Dallas staring them in their collective face. It's an urgent place to be at mid-season, and it's not a great feeling.

But as the rest of the Eagles world wonders about the future, the Eagles have to find a way to win a game on Sunday afternoon against an equally desperate and disappointed Cowboys team. And to do so, the Eagles have to figure out how to cobble together an offensive line decimated by injury and ineffective performance.

Jason Peters isn't going to play. Neither is Jason Kelce. Todd Herremans looks doubtful after suffering an ankle/foot injury in New Orleans. Danny Watkins hasn't practiced in a couple of weeks.

It's likely, and this is certainly subject to change, that the Eagles will go with King Dunlap, Evan Mathis, Dallas Reynolds, Dennis Kelly and Demetress Bell, left to right, against the pressure-based Dallas defense led by DeMarcus Ware, who in time will become the all-time NFL sack leader.

This is a scary proposition for the offense. This requires the coaching staff to adjust, no matter how much it believes in the plug-and-play theory with backups. There is too much unfamiliarity up front, and not enough front-line talent, to stay with the usual offensive game plan.

Heck, the Eagles are averaging 16.6 points per game through eight games, and deep consideration of scheme tweaks should already be in place. Having an offensive line thrown together with a lot of square pegs isn't going to suddenly make the goings any easier.

Let's face it: With so many moving parts at the line of scrimmage, Michael Vick just isn't going to be comfortable. And neither is LeSean McCoy, who relies on timing and trust to hit the holes and get to the second level of a defense, where he gains so many of his yards.

And what of the players the Eagles are expecting to start on Sunday? Dunlap is a solid left tackle who is sound and mature enough to handle the moment. Same with Mathis, who has been the most consistent of the linemen this season.

From there, though, there are a lot of questions. Reynolds is a developmental center who has been thrust into a starting role due to Kelce's injury. Kelly, after a good first game against Atlanta, had his troubles in New Orleans as the Saints beat him inside and turned him around with some stunts and speed off the ball. Kelly has the body -- 6 feet 7 -- of a tackle and the Eagles are forced to use him inside at guard. He's a willing kid, a smart young man with good feet, but the coaching staff is asking an awful lot of him right now.

Bell is not close to where the Eagles expected him to be when they signed him as a free agent in the spring. After starting for three seasons in Buffalo, Bell was supposed to be the replacement for Peters, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon in March. Bell has never played at the All-Pro level Peters has demonstrated for several seasons, but he is a seasoned player who was counted on to be a full-season starter.

Instead, Bell lost his starting job to Dunlap in training camp. Bell has not set the edge consistently and he hasn't been able to adjust to Howard Mudd's aggressive blocking style. Had Herremans not gone down in New Orleans, Bell would have been in the shadows, working on his technique, hoping to wrest back the starting job on the left side.

Now, though, he's protecting Vick's blind side, and Bell can expect to see a lot of Ware, who has 9 quarterback sacks through eight games this year and six consecutive seasons with double-digit sacks.

The challenge, no question, is enormous.

It's back-to-practice day at the NovaCare Complex, and the spirits of the team much bounce back in a hurry after Monday night's lousy loss in New Orleans. The focus has to be on Dallas and on beating the Cowboys, for if the Eagles are to turn around this season and make a playoff run, they have to be just about perfect in the final eight games. It's a huge task, and the odds are what they are.

To beat Dallas, the offense has to be a lot better than it has been this season, particularly in the red zone. The line of scrimmage is the obvious starting point, and it is the area that has been most ravaged by injury in 2012. That's not an excuse, by the way. An NFL roster has to have capable depth, and the Eagles must prove they have enough linemen to carry through a 16-game season, no matter the amount of injuries.

What kind of adjustments will the Eagles make to compensate for the new personnel up front offensively? How can Mudd form some cohesiveness in such a short time with four projected backup linemen assuming starting roles?

In a season filled with questions, the ones most pressing are those associated with an offensive line that has to hold up against the rising tide of the Cowboys' pass rush on Sunday.

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