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Eagles Offensive Line is Improving with Depth

By Paul Macrie, Sports Talk Philly staff writer 

One of the more notable improvements for this year's Eagles team has been their offensive line play.

Despite being without right tackle Lane Johnson for the past five games, as he continues to serve his 10-game PED suspension, and injured guard Allen Barbre for the past two games, the unit continues to hold its own thanks to more depth compared to previous seasons. 

Halapoulivaati Vaitai continues to improve each game after a rough debut at right tackle versus the Redskins in Week 6. Vaitai now has five starts under his belt, and his comfort-ability level is night and day from that much-maligned debut on Oct. 16.

Credit has to go out to offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland who is responsible for getting the unit to understand their blocking assignments, pass protection schemes and making sure the linemen have proper footwork and technique. 

Veteran guard/center Stefen Wisniewski has started the past two games for Barbre. Wisniewski was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason to provide much-needed depth to the offensive line, something former head coach Chip Kelly took for granted during his three-year tenure in Philadelphia. The signing has paid dividends as "Wis" has done a fine job in both pass protection and run blocking. 

Barbre is on track to play this week against the Seahawks, as he was expected to practice in full on Wednesday. He has missed the past two contests with a hamstring injury. Before the injury, Barbre was considered one of the top-10 right guards, per Pro Football Focus rankings. Wisniewski will likely head back to the bench if Barbre can make it through an entire week of practice without a setback. 

Vaitai has at least five more games to prove he belongs in the starting lineup, long term. The fifth-round rookie out of TCU appears to have a bright future. Meanwhile, Lane Johnson is currently serving his second suspension for PED use. Johnson's future with the team is probably safe for now, but Vaitai is making an excellent case to be in the tackle mix next year, even if Jason Peters remains healthy heading into 2017.

The offensive line had its best performance of the season against the Falcons this past Sunday. Center Jason Kelce -- who has had his struggles in 2016 -- played like his former self, as he did great pulling and blocking downfield. The Eagles ran for 208 yards in the win against Atlanta, 109 of those yards coming from Ryan Mathews who had a pleasant resurgence. 

Carson Wentz was sacked twice in the game, but the pass protection was more than adequate. Wentz was responsible for both of those two sacks, as he held onto the ball too long. He also lost a fumble in the game, though it didn't cost the Eagles on the scoreboard. The offensive line has given up 19 sacks through nine games this season. The unit is 21st in the league in sacks allowed more than halfway through the season. 

After nine games, the Eagles are eighth in the league in rush yards per game thanks to last Sunday's scintillating 200-plus yard performance. The rushing attack remains the most significant key to the team's success moving forward, as the receiver play remains shaky. Establishing the run right from the start against the Falcons set the tone for the entire game. Continuing this offensive formula will be easier said than done, but it is important to do so if game flow allows for it. 

This week's opponent, Seattle, is the ninth ranked rushing defense in the NFL. Despite giving up only 3.5 yards per attempt this season, the Seahawks have surrendered 120 rush yards or more in three of their last four contests. It is a defense that continues to be stout against the pass, but has shown some vulnerability against the run in recent weeks. In their last game against the Patriots, they allowed three rushing touchdowns to LaGarrette Blount

CenturyLink Field and the "12th Man" is one of the loudest stadiums in the league. It will be difficult for Carson Wentz and the offensive line to communicate effectively. The Eagles run game will need to set the tone once again, as they seek to remain in the thick of the playoff race. The improvements on the offensive line at least gives the coaching staff confidence to run the ball during a crucial stretch of the season. 


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