1 - The Eagles’ starting offensive line might actually be improved
It’s believed that Jason Peters will go back to left tackle now that Dillard is hurt. Matt Pryor is the favorite to take over for Peters at right guard. There’s reason to believe the Eagles’ offensive line is better with those two players in those spots than it was with Dillard at left tackle and Peters at right guard.
Dillard wasn’t having a great camp. I wouldn’t say he was having a horrible summer but he certainly wasn’t doing much to erase doubts about him. I mean, getting pancaked into Carson Wentz’s legs by former undrafted rookie free agent Joe Ostman was a pretty rough look for the 2019 first-round pick.
Wheras Dillard is unproven, Peters is a future Hall of Famer coming off a season in which he graded out strongly by Pro Football Focus standards. PFF had Peters as their sixth highest-graded tackle in 2019. He’s likely to be better at left tackle in 2020 than Dillard would’ve been.
As for Pryor, he showed promise late in 2019 and he’s had a good training camp. Pryor figures to be a more natural fit at right guard than counting on Peters to transition to the other side of the offensive line so late in his career. Former Eagles All-Pro tackle Tra Thomas previously talked to BGN about why he’s optimistic about Pryor’s outlook:
When I watch those two games [he played last season], even though it’s a very little amount of film on him, I thought he did hell of a job in those two games. At first, when I watched it live, I really wasn’t all that impressed. But when I sat down and I really went through the film and watched each snap and recorded and looked back at what his responsibilities were and what he did, I thought that he did a hell of a job. When he came in, there wasn’t a big drop-off. A lot of people are like, well, Brandon Brooks went down, there was a big drop-off when Matt Pryor came in. There was no drop-off at all! I mean, he came out there and did a really good job. When it came to run blocking, he was able to create movement. Got to his linebacker, whatever read it was he had to handle. When it came to protection, he did a really good job of taking the proper set based on where that defensive tackle was. And he did a good job of delivering his hands. I thought that Matt Pryor was extremely physical, he played a hard game. My only critique for Matt Pryor is to finish every play. To just go out there and just be nasty and grind a cat into the ground. But I thought that he came out there and held his own and he did a really good job. Especially when he came in after the half against Seattle [in Week 12]. I think he did a hell of a job. And then he goes out there against New York [in Week 17] and then he showed that — I know they didn’t have to worry about it as much, because of what’s going on with the stadium, you don’t know what’s going on with fans — but he was able to go in and handle the silent count. Because that right guard, when you’re on the road, that’s the guy that has to handle the silent count and has to look back at [Carson] Wentz and all that, tap the center and then now he’s usually the one that has to block on the fly. I think he did a hell of a job. And I go to know him and I just hit him up [after the Peters re-signing] and was like ‘Hey, man, just stay focused.’ Because that’s all you can do. I hope that JP pans out but I do want Matt Pryor to stay focused and know that he’s ready to go. Because they might need him.
It’s typically hard to find silver linings in season-ending injuries and obviously no one should be rejoicing in Dillard’s pain. But the Eagles’ 2020 starting offensive line is arguably better without him.
2 - There are serious concerns about depth
The starting offensive line might be better but the Eagles’ depth is unquestionably worse off with Dillard out.
What happens when Peters gets banged up? And I say “when” and not “if” because we all know that’s an inevitably. Peters has only missed three games over the past two seasons, yes, but those numbers clearly don’t tell the whole story. We all know there are many times when Peters — who turns 39 in January — will start a game but have to miss a number of plays. Here’s a look at Peters’ snap counts from the past two years:
2018 — 79.49%
2019 — 74.91%
Peters is going to miss playing time at some point. And it’s really unclear who’s going to replace him.
If training camp practice is any indication, Jordan Mailata is the current favorite to be Peters’ backup. The Australian sensation is a fun guy to root for, no doubt, but this is a dude who didn’t even play a real football game in his life until August 2018. He’s only ever played in the preseason and he’s finished his first two NFL seasons on injured reserve due to back injuries. Not to mention that Mailata hasn’t looked very good in camp this year, regularly getting wrecked by the aforementioned Ostman. It’s just hard to believe the Eagles could really count on Mailata to play meaningful snaps for an extended period of time.
The only other Eagles tackle taking reps on the left side is rookie Prince Tega Wanogho. PTW has shown some signs of promise but I don’t know if the 22-year-old rookie is really ready to play a lot. He’s mostly worked with the third team in camp. PTW is a late-comer to football and seems like more of a developmental option.
The Eagles could potentially move Jack Driscoll to the left side. The rookie’s vast experience is on the right, though.
Maybe the Eagles have to get creative and tweak the offensive line to where Pryor moves over to left tackle. Or Lane Johnson. And then they bring in Nate Herbig to play right guard. That might be their best lineup but it’s also far from ideal when they’re changing multiple spots.
The Eagles might just have to sign or trade for a veteran to throw into the mix. The options aren’t going to be plentiful but they could still be an upgrade over the current situation, which isn’t even clear.
3 - There are long-term issues here
The Eagles will be going into 2021 still not truly knowing if Dillard is their left tackle of the future. They can hope he is. But they just can’t know for sure.
Dillard showed some promise as a rookie. He also struggled more than he excelled, though.
Dillard was limited to reserve work when Jason Peters or Lane Johnson went down because of injury, and that was a good thing for Carson Wentz based on how he graded. He allowed a pressure rate of 14.7%, higher than any other tackle in the NFL.
From Football Outsiders:
Dillard blew 7.8% of his combined pass and run blocks, the worst rate among offensive linemen with 300 or more snaps.
Based on everything I’ve heard, the Eagles were not without doubts about Dillard’s outlook heading into this season. My BGN Radio co-host Jimmy Kempski went as far to say the Eagles have “major concerns” about Dillard. Derrick Gunn reported that Dillard was “dangled out there as possible trade bait, to a couple of teams, and on a couple of occasions, the information came back: ‘Not interested at this particular time.’”
2020 would’ve been a great opportunity for Dillard to silence his doubters. He could’ve established himself as the Eagles’ next great left tackle, following in the footsteps of Peters and Thomas.
Alternatively, Dillard could’ve struggled and the Eagles would’ve known they need to start seriously pivoting to a new plan.
Instead, the Eagles are left hoping that Dillard can come back and be the guy in 2021. They might have to invest in a contingency plan. Maybe Peters comes back for yet another year if he plays well this season? Hey, JP did say he wants to play into his 40s.
4 - The Eagles’ 2020 season could be in peril
Really not trying to come off like an alarmist. Like I said up top, it’s possible the Eagles’ offensive line plays better with Dillard out!
But it’s hard to not worry about what happens when Peters gets hurt. Not to mention if there are additional offensive line injuries. On that note, Lane Johnson has missed five straight practices. As such, this was the Eagles’ first team offensive line in practice on Thursday:
Left tackle — Jordan Mailata
Left guard — Isaac Seumalo
Center — Jason Kelce
Right guard — Nate Herbig
Right tackle — Matt Pryor
That’s just not very inspiring.
The Eagles are built to win through the trenches. They won Super Bowl LII largely in part to how strong they were up front. The offensive line has also been a driving factor behind three straight seasons with playoff appearances.
For as much as we might think the Eagles look weak at a position like linebacker, that’s just not going to be a spot that sinks the entire season. Offensive line struggles, meanwhile, could do exactly that. There’s disaster potential in failing to adequately protect Wentz.
The Eagles’ offensive line concerns are frustrating to think about in the context of the potential upgrades at wide receiver. The young pass catchers have been looking good in camp but it just might not matter much if Wentz doesn’t have the proper time to throw to them.
Remarkable resiliency has been a defining characteristic of the Doug Pederson era so I’m hardly saying it’s time to give up on the 2020 season. But there is cause for serious concern.