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Mailbag: The Eagles’ defensive line can be elite, starting Sunday

You ask, I answer!

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

I asked you to ask me things. So you did! And now I will answer some of those questions.

A couple long ones

@bimjoyle: do you think cox & co. have a field day against the seahawks o-line?

I think this is something that bears plenty of watching on Sunday. The Eagles’ offense is probably going to struggle to do much of anything against Seattle, but the Seahawks could have the exact same problem.

Coming into Week 11, the Seahawks’ offensive line is ranked fourth-worst in the league by Pro Football Focus. Now, I’m as wary of PFF grades as the next person, but being in the bottom five of the league seems to be a fairly strong indicator that something is bad.

And when you look at the Seahawks’ numbers on the ground, you start to see what the poor offensive line play is doing to the team’s offense. They rank third-to-last in team rushing yards with 699 through nine games; their only running back with more than 100 yards this season, Christine Michael, was released just this week, and he was only averaging 52.1 yards per game.

Further, Russell Wilson hasn’t been able to a darn thing on the ground this year, in large part, I’d assume, because the offensive line isn’t giving him any time to find room outside of the pocket, and Pete Carroll

Losing a runner as powerful and talented as Marshawn Lynch will hamstring any team’s offense the following season, but falling to third-worst in the league isn’t just a product of your talent at the running back position.

The Eagles’ run defense has been stellar the last few weeks, and when Bennie Logan’s been in the lineup for an entire game, it’s looked like a Top 5 run defense. They’ve held five teams this season to 80 yards or fewer on the ground, and held the Giants and Falcons to a combined 102 rushing yards on 37 attempts, or an average of 2.75 yards per carry.

There are plenty of ways for the Eagles to lose this game. The Seahawks are still very good at throwing the ball because Wilson is a star quarterback and Doug Baldwin has turned into a star wide receiver. The Eagles’ passing game is woefully handicapped, as we all know. And Ryan Mathews is terribly inconsistent from game to game.

But if the Eagles steal a win on Sunday, it will start and end with their defensive line overpowering a porous offensive line all afternoon long.

@absolutjpa: How has our DL played vs good OLs compared to below average OLs?

This is a very good question, and one that bears asking every time a unit seems to be playing well: how do those guys fare against the best in the league?

The Eagles’ pass rush numbers ( ) and run defense numbers (68.2 yards per game, 3.8 yards per rush attempt when Bennie Logan is playing) look good. Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan are all playing exceptional football this season, from most eye tests and also most statistical measures. Even players like Destiny Vaeao and Marcus Smith have had impacts!

But are the numbers skewed by dominating lesser opponents? Let’s take a look.

I’ve grouped the offensive lines the Eagles have faced into two overarching categories: good, and not good. Admittedly, offensive line grading is extremely hard to do with any consistency across metrics, especially advanced stats. I’m still very suspect of PFF grades, but when you watch offensive lines, you can see who allowed pressure, so their take on offensive lines is normally not bad. Here’s what we see.

Good: Cowboys (1st in PFF, great); Falcons (7th in PFF, not great, but good); Browns (10th in PFF, good, plus Joe Thomas); Steelers (11th in PFF, good guards); Washington (12th in PFF; good, plus Trent Williams)

The Eagles are 3-2 against good offensive lines this year. The Eagles’ defensive line managed a couple of these teams pretty handily, but when they lost, boy did they lose big.

The defensive line wins came against the Steelers and the Falcons. The Eagles held those two teams to a combined 77 yards on the ground, and sacked Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan a combined six times. Neither quarterback was allowed by the Eagles’ defensive line to settle into much of a rhythm during the game, and as a result only one touchdown was thrown between the two, on a hard bite early in a route from cornerback Leodis McKelvin. The Eagles fared very well against two Top-12 offensive lines.

I’d call the Browns game a wash. While they allowed an uncharacteristic 120 yards on the ground to a downright awful football team, they also pressured Robert Griffin III consistently, sacking him three times and getting him off his spots with regularity. The second half was a masterclass from the defense, including the line.

The losses were ugly. Against the Cowboys, most of regulation went the Eagles’ way when facing Ezekiel Elliot, possibly the best running back in the league. There was a point midway through the fourth quarter when he didn’t have 80 yards on the ground. But the Cowboys blew things open in the fourth quarter and overtime, and finished the game with 187 yards. Against Washington, another pretty stout offensive line with one of the best tackles in the league in Trent Williams, the Eagles lost Bennie Logan early and got shellacked for a season-worst 230 rushing yards. The defensive line never found Kirk Cousins, which let a middling quarterback pick apart a middling secondary for a win.

Not good: Bears (18th in PFF, not great as a whole); Giants (19th in PFF; Pugh is good, but, eh); Lions (21st in PFF, bad run blocking); Vikings (31st in PFF; woof)

The Eagles fared pretty well against below-average offensive lines. In these four games, the opposing teams averaged 72.7 rush yards per game, which is a big win.

In two of these games, the wins against the Bears and the Vikings, they dominated the opposing quarterback. Sam Bradford was sacked six times and turned the ball over multiple times. Jay Cutler was sacked three times and did the same. In these two games, the Eagles obliterated weaker offensive lines. They were impressive outings.

The Giants game was probably a wash. They kept New York to fewer than 55 yards rushing, which is always a win. But with a quarterback who gets as antsy in the pocket as Eli Manning, not pressuring him enough will always go down as a partial failure. The lack of Bennie Logan didn’t help.

And the game against the Lions was, overall, a loss. The Eagles’ defense, and especially the defensive line, shut the Lions down in the second half, but by generating absolutely no pressure from the line in the first half and allowing Matthew Stafford the time he needed to throw three touchdowns in two quarters, they dug a hole from which the offense could not recover.

So: The Eagles’ defensive line fares better against weak offensive lines, like those of the Vikings and Bears. But the line has also performed admirably against good offensive lines. Overall, the defensive line is good, bordering on great. With Logan back, and a little more consistency from week to week, they can still be a Top 10, maybe even Top 5, unit in the league.


A few quick ones

@ztbillingham: do you think Jason Peters will be on the team next year?


@officialericm: what will we be talking about after week 17?


@joemillsv: has Big V cemented his spot at RT when Johnson moves over to LT?

Not yet, no.

@danurda: Whats it going to take to get Agholor benched. I know fans got mocked for the Paul Turner craze but hes gotta be better no?

I have no answers, except Agholor is bad.


A few funny ones

@alexfischer_65: is Carson Wentz my dad?

Yeah, probably. He is all our dads. He is the only dad. His middle name is actually Dad. Carson Dad Wentz. CDW, like the corporation except better. I think I’m going to get Father’s Day gifts for both my dad and Carson Wentz in June.

@jallen_town: what was the total number of followers lost post-election?

If I recall (I had a lot of gin that night) it clocked in at 94 followers lost. I’ve regained a lot, which is surprising because I also blocked a very large number of people that night, so they’re not the same Eagles fans who’ve crawled back despite my political views.

@tashy906: why can't we have nice things

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