The Eagles announced Wednesday that they've reached a five-year agreement with offensive tackle Demetress Bell.
The loss of Jason Peters, the team's best offensive lineman, cannot be overstated. No one is expecting Bell to play at Peters' level, but a lot is riding on him playing well in 2012.
After the Eagles' coaching staff has a chance to see what it has in Bell, Andy Reid and company will have to make important decisions that will impact the offense.
Here's a look at some of the players who could be directly affected by the switch from Peters to Bell:
Brent Celek - After a slow start, he averaged nearly 70 receiving yards per game in the final 10. Part of that had to do with fewer drops. Part of it had to do with getting on the same page as Michael Vick. And part of it had to do with Celek being used more as a receiver and less as a blocker on passing downs. But depending on Bell's performance in pass protection, and how teams attack Vick, Celek may be needed more as a blocker. Last season, against the Bills, with Jason Peters out and King Dunlap at left tackle, Celek was called on to block 36 percent of the time on passing downs, per Pro Football Focus. That was his highest percentage in any single game, and it was the result of Buffalo blitzing, as well as wanting to give Dunlap help. Vick was extremely efficient in getting the ball to Celek in the second half of last season. But part of the tight end's role will rely on Bell holding his own in pass protection.
Michael Vick - This one's pretty obvious, but Vick's quest to stay healthy and avoid turnovers gained another degree of difficulty when Peters went down. Reid told reporters at the owners meetings that the coaching staff might have given Vick too much responsibility in terms of calling protections last year. Having confidence in those calls could be an issue if he's not sure that Bell can handle the defense's best pass rusher off the edge. By my count, the Eagles will face a pass-rusher who had double-digit sacks last season six times: DeMarcus Ware (19.5) twice, Jason Pierre-Paul twice (16.5) twice, Baltimore's Terrell Suggs (14) and Detroit's Cliff Avril (11). Guys like John Abraham, James Harrison, Brian Orakpo, and LaMarr Woodley are also on the schedule. In other words, Bell is going to be tested. And Vick, Jason Kelce and Howard Mudd have their work cut out for them.
DeSean Jackson - This one goes hand-in-hand with Vick, really. According to Pro Football Focus, 27.4 percent of Jackson's targets were 20 yards or more downfield last season. And 13.7 percent of Vick's throws traveled 20 yards or more downfield. That ranked seventh among all NFL quarterbacks. The Eagles' offense still takes a lot of shots deep in the passing game, but the line needs to give Vick time to make those throws. Four of Jackson's nine drops last year came inside the numbers and within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. Given his size and concussion history, I'm not a believer that Jackson's ever going to hold on to those balls. But as I've said before, he needs to come down with the deep balls, four of which he dropped in 2011.
LeSean McCoy - ESPN.com keeps track of where running backs run, breaking down carries and yards by Left Sideline, Left, Middle, Right and Right Sideline. The first chart shows number of carries in each of those directions.
|Left Sideline||Left||Middle||Right||Right Sideline|
As you can see, McCoy ran to the left/left sideline about 45 percent of the time and to the right/right sideline about 35 percent of the time. Todd Herremans is a good run blocker, and when Danny Watkins showed potential last year, it was often in the run game. But Peters was outstanding at shoving the defensive end upfield and then taking out linebackers at the next level, something Mudd will undoubtedly be asking Bell to do.
Here are McCoy's yards per carry in each direction:
|Left Sideline||Left||Middle||Right||Right Sideline|
It's no surprise that McCoy had success getting to the sidelines and breaking big runs. He picked up a lot of yards rushing up the middle too. But it is somewhat surprising that he averaged just 2.8 yards per carry to the left. Now, that doesn't mean all those runs were designed to go to the left. Perhaps McCoy made poor reads or someone on the right side (a lineman or tight end) missed a block that forced him left.
Regardless, as good as McCoy was last year, which was his first season in Mudd's scheme, he'll face a tougher task in 2012 without Peters paving the way.
Evan Mathis - He started just 22 games in his first six NFL seasons, but when Mathis got a shot last season, he made the most of it. Now, the Eagles will be counting on him to turn in a repeat performance without Peters on his left and second-year player Jason Kelce on his right. Mathis suddenly has the second-most starts of any of the five projected Eagles linemen.
The offensive line as a whole goes from a definite strength to a question mark. I mentioned Mathis above, and the Eagles know what they have in Herremans. Watkins needs to improve, specifically in pass protection, and Kelce needs to continue to get better too.
As for Bell, I'll take a look tonight at some of his games with the Bills last year and offer up some notes on Thursday.