There’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles season, and only a few dark clouds on the horizon. The biggest one is the looming four-game suspension of right tackle Lane Johnson at the outset. Most analysts ranked Philly’s offensive line number one overall in the NFL last season. Now that unit’s depth is going to be severely tested.
Today’s mailbag question comes from @Villalpando79 via Twitter:
“With Lane Johnson suspension looming, is the “next man up” theory enough to keep the cogs turning in our Offense?”
Solid question. I’m aware that we have already covered this in some detail – if you want to know about the personnel options for the Eagles I’d recommend reading Josh Reising’s article from Friday which broke down the contenders for backup right tackle.
I’m going to take a different angle at this one. “Next man up” sounds nice. It’s folksy wisdom. It sounds good, and in theory that’s how it’s supposed to work. But football is perhaps more like real life than any other sport because things very rarely work out the way they are supposed too.
The Broncos were supposed to roll to a Super bowl victory last year. The Texans were supposed to win the AFC South. The Falcons were supposed to represent the NFC in the big game in February. Guess what? None of that happened.
Philly has a couple of decent options to replace Johnson – Allen Barbre would be my pick right now if the choice was up to me. However, none of them are ideal and the real strength of the Eagles offensive line is on the other side of Jason Kelce. The good news is that it’s only one guy, and he’ll only be gone for four games.
Here’s who Philly will be facing the first month of 2014:
Week 1: Jacksonville ranked 30th overall in pass rushing last season according to Football Outsiders, so in theory they shouldn’t be too scary. On the other hand they signed Chris Clemons and Red Bryant in the offseason; two veteran Seahawks who have a lot of experience at getting to opposing quarterbacks. Chris Clemons in particular worries me: over the last two seasons he has taken guys like Cam Newton, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers completely out of their comfort zones and thrown them off their games.
Week 2: Indianapolis has one of the better pass rush attacks in the NFL. They finished 8th overall in sacks last season with 42 overall. Protecting Nick Foles will be paramount, especially considering they’ll probably need him to drop 30 just to keep pace with Andrew Luck and company.
Week 3: Washington is only an average pass rushing team but they did add Jason Hatcher. However, the rest of their defense is absolutely pathetic and if the initial pressure doesn’t work out they can be burned for huge gains downfield. A little bit of pass protection will go a long way against them.
Week 4: San Francisco has one of the best defenses in the NFL but they’re much tougher at stuffing the run than they are at getting to the quarterback. Getting around that second level is difficult enough on any given Sunday (good movie – too long though) but with an offensive line at less than 100 percent it’s going to be next to impossible. Nick Foles is going to have to be otherworldly for Philly to stand a chance here.
So that’s what we’re looking at. I think even with Johnson out Weeks 1 and 3 should be relatively easy wins, but the other two are going to be extremely tough. Bottom line: if the Eagles can get Lane Johnson back on the field with a record of 2-2 they’ll be just fine.