Updated: Monday, October 2, 2017, 6:03 PM
Most men might not be able to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but, given enough time and a few hogs, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland could stitch together a whole line of designer handbags.
In the first two regular-season games Eagles running backs gained 104 yards on 33 runs, a 3.15 average per carry. Carson Wentz was sacked eight times and avoided a half-dozen more but the run-blocking was even worse. Poor play by new left guard Isaac Seumalo was part of the problem, true, but there was no chemistry among the linemen.
This problem was entirely predictable. Seumalo, a third-round draft pick in his second season, had played just one game at left guard in his life, a problem amplified by the absences of other players. Right guard Brandon Brooks missed the first preseason game with an ankle injury. Jason Peters, 35, had a light training camp was excused from the second preseason game for personal reasons. The starting offensive linemen played only in the first quarter of the third game. They sat out the fourth preseason game, as is customary.
Again: The starters on the offensive line played slightly less than eight minutes together in the preseason.
“The offensive line has to play as a unit. When you have injuries, when guys aren’t playing together that long, there’s going to be some disruption up front: timing, blocks,” coach Doug Pederson said. “We saw it a little bit in the first game; not so much the assignment area but the timing of blocks.”
By the middle of Game 2 at Kansas City, Pederson nearly abandoned the running game. He completely ignored Blount, who had no carries, but then, Blount needs big holes. There were none.
The next week Pederson benched Seumalo and implemented an unusual two-guard rotation with veterans Stefen Wisniewski and Chance Warmack. During the week, Pederson and Stoutland sketch a rough draft for who plays when, but on Sunday, Pederson said, Stoutland determines who goes in. Benching Seumalo increased the competence at the position but it coincided with an uptick in performance down the line.
This, in turn, coincided with two wins. In those wins, the running backs gained 371 yards on 69 rushes, a 5.38 average. They ran 36 times for 200 yards Sunday against the Chargers led by Blount, who had 136 yards on 16 carries, including a signature, 68-yard rumble in the fourth quarter.
“Great game-planning by Coach Soutland,” Pederson said.
Again, given enough time …
“What your seeing now is all that coming together,” Pederson said. “These are the same runs we always use. We just window-dress them a little differently. Present them a little differently to the defense. The timing and the accuracy and the pin-pointing of the blocking that we work on during the week are starting to pay off.”
It paid off on Blount’s game-breaker: a surgical display of pinpoint blocking by Peters, Wisniewski, Kelce and Brooks, all the more impressive because Wiz is supposed to be inferior to Warmack as a run blocker.
“One man’s strength is another man’s weakness,” Pederson said.
Perhaps Stoutland should get some credit for turning Wisniewski’s weakness into a strength.
Certainly, credit general manager Howie Roseman with re-signing Wisniewski and signing Warmack. Credit the double W’s with swallowing their price and accepting the strange arrangement. Credit Pederson for quickly abandoning the Seumalo experiment, which seemed doomed from the start. But, most of all, credit Stoutland with making it work.
The rotation fails if Stoutland does not command absolute respect and loyalty from his players. It fails if either Wisniewski or Warmack is unprepared to play the position. It fails if Stoutland does not, every week, choreograph a usage plan with Pederson to get the best from both players. It fails if the linemen on their flanks, center Jason Kelce and left tackle Jason Peters, do not possess Pro Bowl abilities and complete understanding of concepts. It fails if Wentz, his tight ends and his running backs lack the elasticity to adjust.
It is not failing. It is, incredibly, succeeding wildly.
This should not be a surprise. No challenge is too tough for Stout.
Last season, for the first six weeks of Lane Johnson’s 10-game PED suspension, Stout turned Halapoulivaati Vatai, a fifth-round rookie, into a serviceable right tackle. It took a game for Big V to find his sea legs but he gave the Birds five weeks of competence, until he injured his knee.
In 2014, hamstrung by Johnson’s first PED suspension (four games) and a rash of injuries, Stoutland used five backups in six different starting combinations in the first 11 games. The Eagles went 8-3.
Three seasons later, they’re 3-1 and on top of the NFC East. Wentz was sacked eight times in the first two games and avoided a half-dozen more, but he’s been sacked just four times the last two weeks, partly because teams have to respect the run.
It all comes back to Stoutland, the best coach in the building since Chip Kelly hired him away from Alabama in 2013.
The head coach has changed, and the scheme has changed, the quarterbacks and running backs and guards are different, but Stouland remains the same.
Invaluably brilliant, innovative and constant.
Read full story: Eagles suddenly have a Stout running game