By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
Leading up to the Eagles match-up with the Seattle Seahawks 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 Eagles and Seahawks will field on Sunday.
Philadelphia OL | Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Matt Pryor, Andre Dillard, Nate Herbig, Sua Opeta
Starting off on the left side, the Eagles are anchored by veteran and future Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters. Peters has certainly slowed down quite a bit and that has resulted in his getting called for slightly more fouls and allowing more pressure than is expected of him. Still, Peters was ranked the fifth best tackle, left or right, by Pro Football Focus just a few weeks ago. Since then, he had an awful game and a great game to close out the season. He may not be the dominant force that he once was, but he still has the skill that makes him a top ten tackle in the league. The biggest concern with Peters at this point is his health, but he missed just three games this season and has only missed a handful of snaps since the Eagles had a bye week.
Next to him is Isaac Seumalo. Of the Eagles starting five, Seumalo is the least dominant, but he may be the most important piece given his ability to play up to the level of a starter with versatility that allows him to play all five spots on the line. The fact that he is on a line filled with such other dominant players really works against him in the court of public opinion, making him seem worse than he is and making any of his mistakes, such as penalties, seem amplified.
Jason Kelce mans the center spot and is one of just two Eagles on offense to have never left the field during an offensive snap this season. Kelce has been the most dominant player at the position for a few years in a row now, being ranked as the top offensive lineman overall in 2017, the top interior lineman in 2018 and the top center this year. His play has earned him his third straight appearance on Pro Football Focus' All-Pro team as well as a Pro Bowl selection. This season, Kelce has struggled more than he has over the past few seasons with pass blocking, but he remains an elite player in the run game with quickness that allows him to get down the field and, often times, block multiple defenders.
The right side of the line is a bit of a mess for the Eagles right now. Starting right guard Brandon Brooks was injured in the week 17 and is out for the season. Right tackle Lane Johnson was the man who missed the most time on the line this season, missing four games down the stretch. His status is still up in the air. Johnson may not be fully back from his high-ankle sprain, but when he played, he was labeled as the top tackle in the league by Pro Football Focus and his missed time is likely the only thing that kept him off of their 2019 All-Pro team.
Playing in Johnson's spot when he is out has been Halapoulivaati Vaitai (Big V). Big V, much like Seumalo is the victim of an incredible line and any mistakes he makes are promptly compared to Jason Peters and Lane Johnson (remember that Johnson was ranked as the top tackle in the league just a few weeks ago). Despite the fact that there is an obvious drop off in level of play from Johnson to Big V, he is still a competent tackle who could start for quite a few other teams in the league. He has also added some versatility and can play either of the tackle spots or right guard. Depending on the status of Johnson, Big V could start this game at tackle, he may start at right guard or he may not start.
If Johnson starts and Big V isn't starting at guard, the starting right guard is likely to be Matt Pryor. Pryor was a sixth-round pick of the Eagles last year and was originally a tackle out of college. With a glut of tackles, the Eagles saw fit to train him to be a guard instead. He was inactive for all 16 games of his rookie season as well as the playoffs and saw special teams snaps only for much of 2019. Pryor played fairly well when he was forced into action in week 12 and he played extremely well in week 17 when he had to come off the bench. Those two games are his only significant play time so far, so he is a relative unknown as far as his play is concerned. Pryor's first extended look at guard came against the Seahawks.
First-round pick Andre Dillard has played some snaps in relief of Peters and was fairly impressive when he started in place of the veteran, but when he was started in place of Johnson, he was awful. That experiment ended at half time and means that Dillard is currently limited to playing just the left tackle position where he is a more than capable back-up for the time being.
Herbig has been on the roster all season and has only played twice (once on special teams and once as an extra blocker) and Opeta is a physical specimen who is more of a project that the Eagles promoted to the active roster earlier in the season.
Seattle OL | Duane Brown, Mike Iupati, Joey Hunt, D.J. Fluker, Germain Ifedi, George Fant, Jamarco Jones, Jordan Roos, Phil Haynes, Kyle Fuller
The Seahawks starting left tackle is Duane Brown, who is the best player on the Seahawks offensive line. Brown may not be the most dominant player at his position, but he is absolutely above average and can lead the line for Seattle. In 2019, the issue for Brown is his health. In the first half of the season, he missed two games with injury and he has missed the Seahawks last two games with a knee injury. He had surgery on the knee just two weeks ago, so is certainly questionable to suit up on Sunday.
Mike Iupati is the Seahawks starting left guard, but has also dealt with injuries. The Seahawks wanted to use Ethan Pocic in his stead, but he has been placed on IR for the second time this season. Iupati, for his part, is still dealing with his own injuries. That said, he did play every snap last weekend and is more likely to play this weekend than not. Iupati was formerly a top lineman in the league, but has not earned an All-Pro or Pro Bowl selection since 2015. He is in his first season in Seattle.
Joey Hunt is a replacement for Justin Britt at center since Britt tore his ACL in October. Hunt was selected in the sixth round of the 2016 draft and ended up starting a single game for the Seahawks that season, but was waived for almost the entire 2017 season when he did not play a snap. He returned to the roster last season, but again only started one game. The 2019 campaign has been his first with consistent snaps. The new starter has performed well, but isn't a major threat compared to many other NFL centers. He has eight starts and nine penalties called on him and currently has a leg injury.
D.J. Fluker is a major component to the Seahawks very successful run blocking, though he does struggle a bit more with pass blocking. Fluker has been perhaps the best on the Seahawks line this season. While Brown is very good, Fluker has only missed two and a half games early this season, so his availability has made him the more important piece down the stretch. Fluker is in his second season in Seattle and was brought back with Iupati this offseason in hopes of solidifying a line that has since dealt with injuries everywhere.
In fact, the only starter to not miss a game this season was Germain Ifedi at right tackle. Ifedi's health has been important to the Seahawks, but he has also played some extremely sloppy football. He has 13 penalties on the season, including seven false starts and five holds. For comparison, Jason Peters draws the ire of fans for all of his false starts and he has five on the season. That type of play is nothing new for Ifedi, who has missed just four games over his four years in the league but has also been called for 51 penalties.
George Fant is Seattle's first man off the bench, at least for the time being. Jamarco Jones was starting for the injured Brown, but has struggled and has become the second man. Fant has a fairly good chance at starting this weekend with an offensive line that is beat up. Fant has played at least a handful of snaps in all 16 of the Seahawks game and has had a fair amount of success, especially on outside run blocking.
Roos has served as a special teamer, but has not played on offense. Haynes was drafted in the fourth round of the 2019 draft, but has spent most of the season on the PUP list and has not gotten into a game while Fuller was on the practice squad the entire season and just recently promoted.
Seattle has had issues with their line for quite some time now and while they are rather effective at running the ball, they rely heavily on Russell Wilson's ability to escape pressure as they are routinely in the bottom of the league for pass blocking.
With that said, the 2019 Seahawks line is much improved over the unit they had over the past few seasons.
On the Philadelphia side, they have four of the most dominant players at their positions when healthy, but may start just two of them against the Seahawks this Sunday.
Johnson is nearing the end of his projected absence and is likely to press for the start in such an important game, but the Eagles have a solid back-up plan for him in place. If he starts, the Eagles are clearly better at the position with a decision to be made as to which player is better at right guard.
If Johnson does not play, the choice becomes far more difficult, but I would still chose the Eagles for the dominant forces they have at center and at left tackle.