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By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
Leading up to the Eagles matchup with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, Sports Talk Philly and Eagledelphia will compare the personnel of the two teams each day until gameday is here.
In this edition of our week-long comparison, we will look at the offensive linemen that the Saints and Eagles will field on Sunday.
New Orleans OL | Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Max Unger, Larry Warford, Ryan Ramczyk, Jermon Bushrod
The Saints offensive line could be considered elite at the beginning of the season, but with so many injuries, if is hard to consider them such right now.
Armstrong, in theory, anchors the unit. The left tackle was selected to the Pro Bowl and was a second-team All-Pro selection by both the AP and PFF. He is an elite tackle in this league who has come into his own over the course of the season. He was rated as the second-best overall tackle in the league this season by Pro Football Focus. The problem? Armstead has played only once since week 10. His being out will certainly hurt the Saints’ chances.
His back-up would be Jermon Bushrod. Bushrod was originally drafted by the Saints, but made money signing with the Bears and Dolphins. Now, in his twelfth year, he re-signed with the Saints just to be cut and re-signed four days later. He has two Pro Bowls to his name, but that is a rather weak indicator and those selections are from six seasons ago. He is a serviceable tackle now. Bushrod has not played since week 15 with an injury of his own. His replacement would be a lineman who is primarily a guard/center (think Wiz for the Eagles) or a pure center.
Next to them would be Andrus Peat at left guard. While he is a pretty good guard, he is not a top-tier guard. The former first-round pick is underappreciated around the league, albeit not so much so as the Eagles interior linemen. Peat left the Saints final game of the season with an injury to his hand. He did not return and is questionable at this time, though likely will play due to the other injuries.
Center Max Unger is a prime example of why the Pro Bowl can be such a poor indicator of performance due to the fan voting. The former second-round pick was an All-Pro in 2012 and made the NFL’s Top 100 list the following offseason. Combine that with Pro Bowl nods in 2012 and 2013, and Unger had made a name for himself. He has been merely average this season, unable to crack even the top five centers in the league, but he was selected to the Pro Bowl this season because he has a popular name and is on one of the best teams in the league. Unger is the only starter who does not appear to be banged up, however.
Right tackle Larry Warwick is an above average guard who was named to the 2013 All-Rookie team and the 2017 Pro Bowl. There isn’t too much else to share about him other that he too is ailed by an injury – a knee problem that forced him to sit out the final game of the season. Since that game meant nothing to the Saints, that may have been a precautionary move and Warwick will also likely start due to the other injuries.
The Saints right tackle is Ryan Ramczyk, who was also selected to the second-team All-Pro rosters by the AP and PFF. A corn-fed giant out of Wisconsin, Ramczyk was a first-round pick of the Saints last year and found himself quickly named to the All-Rookie team. He has come a long way in his second year and is at the point where he could very well challenge Lane Johnson for the title of top right tackle in the league going forward. He left the Saints game in week 16 with a lower body injury and sat out of the week 17 match-up with a shoulder injury. His multiple issues may keep him sidelined, but with their left tackle and primary back-up tackle already beat up, he may try to play though the pain – and be an easy target in the process.
Philadelphia OL | Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo, Stefan Wisniewski, Jason Peters, Halapoulivaati Vaitai
The Eagles had the most dominant offensive line last season and only added two players to the position group this season. While they have not been as dominant this season as they were last, they have dealt with a lot more injuries this season and remain in the top five offensive lines in the league. In the wild card, they went up against the best defense in the league and held them to one sack and just five quarterback hits. The unit should only do better this week.
Kelce is the clear leader on the line. Elected as a captain in 2018, Kelce has been selected to two Pro Bowls. Those were in 2014 and 2016. The fact that he was not selected to the Pro Bowl this season or last season goes to show you how useless a Pro Bowl nomination can sometimes be due to fan voting. Last season, Kelce registered the highest grade for a center since PFF started grading players and was the best offensive lineman in the game. This season, he has suffered a few injuries, but is still ranked as the number one interior lineman (third best offensive lineman overall). He shines in the run game and has consistently improved in the passing game – registering a career high rating in pass protection this season.
The right side of Kelce is well fortified by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. Johnson, a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection last season, was ranked as the 95th best player in the sport by his fellow players this offseason. He suffered a high ankle sprain and MCL tear early in the season that derailed his chances of repeating those accolades. Since his return to health, he has dominated the league again. Brooks is an overlooked member of the crew who has been selected to the Pro Bowl the last two seasons. He is one of the best free-agent signings that the Birds have made over the past few seasons and has missed the fewest amount of snaps to injury than any other lineman on the Eagles this season. That said, he struggled mightily against the Bears and Aikem Hicks ran him all game, which is a big reason the Eagles run game never got starter. The Eagles need Brooks to play as he had in every other game this season.
Also frequently overlooked are Wisniewski and Seumalo. The two have played at a high level while moving around the line. Wiz plays the three inside positions while Seumalo plays any position on the line – a trait that has come in handy with both starting tackles missing significant time. Seumalo seemed to be fine in Chicago, so it would stand to reason he will start again this weekend.
Peters is an absolute Hall of Fame left tackle, but has not been good this season. The nine-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro has landed in the NFL Top 100 three times over the past six seasons, but injuries have derailed his productivity. He has only played every snap in six of the 16 games this season, meaning Vaitai needs to come off of the bench quite frequently. Vaitai can be counted on to play well – he did take on some of the top defenses throughout the season and playoffs last season, but he often needs some time to get into rhythm when he comes off the bench. Luckily, that was not the case in the wild card as Khalil Mack attempted to take advantage of the aging and injured Peters to no avail. Peters will not likely face a rusher as skilled as Mack the rest of the way out as Cox is with the Eagles and Donald plays on the inside.
If both units were healthy, this would be a tough decision.
At the beginning of the season, it would have been an obvious mismatch in the Saints favor, though the Eagles do have the depth to adequately deal with those issues.
At the time when it matters most, however, the Eagles have the healthy line while the Saints have a line full of banged up big men. They even have second-stringers injured and they are not as deep as the Birds. Even if they all play, their play might very well be similar to that of Lane Johnson and Jason Peters at the beginning of the season and feature frequent trips to the sidelines and back. Their lack of health gets the Eagles a second landslide advantage.