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Halapoulivaati Vaitai impacts Eagles offense negatively in a number of ways

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It’s not just pressures...

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Desperate for offensive production, the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles need to find answers fast. If they plan on defeating the New Orleans Saints’ top scoring offense and keeping their playoff hopes alive, chances are they’ll have to put up their best offensive performance this season.

We all know the numbers; the Eagles have only scored over 30 points once this season and rank dead last in first quarter points. The sole 30+ point game was against a New York Giants’ defense that currently ranks 20th in points allowed. The Saints defense hasn’t been particularly stellar this year, but it hasn’t mattered.

Offensive coordinator Mike Groh is under fire with many fans clamoring for the days of Frank Reich. Is it justified? Perhaps. It’s a nuanced conversation with several moving parts. All things considered, I thought the execution was more to blame in the 27-20 loss against the Dallas Cowboys. That’s not to say Groh is absolved.

Make no mistake, this is not a Groh apology piece. He needs to be an integral part in righting the ship. One challenge he faces is the absence of stud right tackle Lane Johnson. Replacing him is Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

My thoughts on Vaitai are well documented. I don’t believe him to be a starting caliber player nor close to it. The Eagles certainly recognize his faults; you can tell this by the way they game-planned around him against the Cowboys.

Removing the six screen passes from the equation, Carson Wentz dropped back 41 times last Sunday night. Vaitai was given aid in the way of tight end/running back blocks or chips on 13 of those snaps. Essentially one-third of non-screen drop-backs have some sort of built-in component to help Vaitai. That’s not counting the bevy of RPO calls that facilitate a fast release.

On one hand, Groh would be a fool not to provide Vaitai with some assistance against a tough draw like Demarcus Lawrence. In a way it was effective. Wentz was only pressured on 25% of his dropbacks and sacked twice.

On the other hand, taking away options in the progression for Wentz also hurts him. This was especially evident on key downs where Zach Ertz was forced to stay in and get a healthy chunk of Lawrence before releasing late.

Paired with this is the mysterious drop in 12 personnel (28%) despite it not being about Golden Tate seeing a large number of snaps (29%). If you’re going to keep a tight end in, why not free up Ertz and use the better blocker, Dallas Goedert, for that role? Furthermore, wouldn’t he be more effective doing that job than a smaller player like Jordan Matthews?

When left on an island, Vaitai was up-and-down. Lawrence got the best of him a few times, as expected, but he also gave up pressures to guys like linebacker Damien Wilson. Here’s Wilson on a blitz helping to collapse the pocket around Wentz.

Taking away resources from the passing game and dumping them into protection on one-third of your plays seems less than ideal. It’s something that Groh and Doug Pederson will have to work around without sacrificing the potential of the offense.

Lane Johnson was limited in today’s practice and his status for Sunday is in jeopardy. Either Vaitai will have to step up his game and show he can be trusted on an island, or Wentz and his weapons will have to step up their game that much more as the game-plan shrinks around them.