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Eagles’ Stefen Wisniewski feels like his benching wasn’t performance-related

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Doug Pederson begs to differ.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Stefen Wisniewski and the Philadelphia Eagles coaching staff aren’t on the same page when it comes to the starting left guard’s benching.

After the Eagles’ loss to the Vikings on Sunday, Wisniewski told the Inquirer that he felt like he wasn’t replaced by Isaac Seumalo because he’s been struggling.

Wisniewski doubled down on this stance via his official Twitter account.

Doug Pederson was asked about Wisniewski’s comments during his Monday press conference. The Eagles head coach disagreed with the player’s assessment.

Q: What went into the decision to start Isaac Seumalo at left guard?

PEDERSON: Sometimes, as a staff, you evaluate all your players. If you need to make a change, you’ll make a change. And we felt comfortable with Isaac making the start this week.

Q: Wisniewski said that he didn’t think it was play related. That he was playing well. And that he was benched for some other theory that he didn’t want to put out there. What would you say to that?

PEDERSON: Well, what would the other theory — I have no idea what the other theory would be. Because everything in this business is performance-based. So, um —

Q: You don’t feel pressure to play high draft picks?

PEDERSON: Not at all. Not at all. I don’t know where that theory’s coming from. If that’s the theory, that’s not coming from us. Not at all.

Q: But Isaac didn’t play any guard for the summer for the most part. He was almost specifically at center. So why now all of a sudden is guard a better option for him?

PEDERSON: (heavy sigh) It’s — OK, so, Isaac, for us, very versatile offensive lineman. And just like Big V [Halapoulivaati Vaitai], Big V can play left tackle, Big V can play right tackle. Um, Stefen can play left guard, he can play center. You know, Chance Warmack is probably the only guy that can play [just] guard, right, for us. And so when we look at, um, our personnel, and if we feel, as an offensive staff, that we need to make a change somewhere, then we’ll make that change. We felt comfortable with Isaac. We felt comfortable with his versatility playing all five positions, which he’s very capable of doing. And he’s a year older, he’s done well in practice, and he’s earned an opportunity to play. So we felt like this past week was a good opportunity.

Q: How did he perform in the game based upon the film review?

PEDERSON: He played well. He had one bad snap in there but overall he played pretty well.

Q: Do you think he’ll still be starting on Thursday night?

PEDERSON: It’s hard on a short week to make a bunch of changes but I would anticipate probably the same lineup, yes.

So, what’s the deal here?

Let’s start by examining Wisniewski’s self-assessment. I don’t think it’s accurate to say he was playing “pretty well.” In the final start before his benching, we saw him get worked by Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey.

But on the whole, he wasn’t flat out terrible to the point where benching him was a no-brainer. Prior to this week, Wisniewski ranked 32nd out of 56 guards in PFF’s pass blocking metric. It could be worse.

Wisniewski didn’t offer insight into his “theories” on why he was benched but we might be able to take some educated guesses here. Starting with comments made by former Eagles president Joe Banner over the past few months. These quotes come from his interviews with The Athletic.

From August 27:

But nonetheless, they’ve either gotta get [Stefen] Wisniewski playing back up to the way he was last year. Or see if there’s somebody that can step in [...]

From September 12:

I think if you break it down, there are still some (trouble) spots. I thought (Stefen) Wisniewski played a little better than he did during the preseason but not as good as he did last year.

From October 4:

The other thing to realize, though, and not to pick on him, but if you look at (Stefen) Wisniewski’s career, he really overachieved last year. I think we’re seeing that come back to really what the historical prediction would have been. And, you know, unfortunately, when there’s only five offensive linemen, you know, if one of them isn’t playing well, it becomes fairly easy for the defense to focus on exploiting that and disrupting a certain number of plays. It won’t ruin the offense or anything. And once they see that on tape, it becomes something that you’re just gonna have to fix or you’re gonna have the opposing team continue to take advantage of it. I thought this was true in the preseason, I mentioned it in one of these Q&As and I watch it now, and other than the mental part of it, I think that that’s the biggest issue. He’s really playing more like he did for his whole career than he did last year when he did a really good job.

Banner specifically singled out Wisniewski in three different interviews. Friend of BGN Tyler Aston had a good take on this.

So, who was Banner hearing from? I don’t know for sure, but I might be able to guess where the displeasure about Wisniewski was ultimately coming from.

Let’s go back to June 2015. Remember when Evan Mathis was holding out from the team and ultimately got cut? A lot of people point to that as another example of Chip Kelly unwisely jettisoning talent from the roster.

But my understanding was that Chip was hardly the only motivating factor behind Mathis getting cut. I heard that Jason Peters didn’t like playing next to Mathis because of the guard’s playing style. Former Eagles All-Pro tackle Tra Thomas, who was on Kelly’s coaching staff for a couple years, once explained this in more detail:

“I know Evan is a two-time Pro Bowler, but he and Jason Peters play a different style of game. Evan Mathis is a guy who likes to jump set and likes to take everything at the line of scrimmage. Jason Peters is a guy who likes to set back and let his guy come to him. He came up in the same school of thought as Juan (Castillo). He likes to count his steps and everything is timing and about punching the guy (rusher) to take him past the quarterback. Evan is taking his guy right on the line and Jason Peters is about three yards behind him. He’s setting back and that puts them on two different levels which creates issues and problems when the rushers run games against them. Lot of times if you saw the film, you saw issues. They were on different levels.”

It was easy to see that Peters wasn’t really concerned about Mathis being absent from the team.

When asked if Peters would miss Mathis, he didn’t seem to mind at all if Mathis doesn’t return.

”No, not really,” said Peters. “I’ve been playing beside different guys every year, so it doesn’t really matter who’s beside me to get the chemistry with them, and then get ready for the season.

”We’ve got a group of guys out there putting in work who have been here since April. Right now Allen Barbre is the starter. Don’t know if Evan shows up, he’ll get his spot back, I don’t know.”

During a BGN Radio radio show appearance earlier this year (of which I was part of), Thomas had mentioned something about Peters not being over the moon about playing next to Wisniewski. I believe Thomas mentioned Peters believing Wisniewski’s play style led to Peters getting hurt last year. (Apologies for the lack of specifics here but the audio has since been deleted.)

In any case, it doesn’t seem crazy to theorize that Wisniewski is Peters’ new Mathis. And it’s not hard to believe that Peters has the kind of influence on the team to encourage changes considering his unique “best friend” relationship with team owner Jeffrey Lurie.

If I had to guess, I would think Wisneiwski feels he’s being benched because of a political reason like this instead of something strictly performance-based.