Usually, you can see greatness. Whether it’s a great catch, or a spectacular run. An amazing throw, or a game changing interception. Greatness is usually tangible. Greatness is something that can be discussed and debated.
When a team is lucky enough to have a game changing Offensive lineman, the results can usually be seen on the scoreboard and the game film. No one is watching the O-Line to see what blocking scheme they are employing on every play. But if a huge run is broken off, or a big screen pass hits, the O-Line is the reason these plays happen. When the Quarterback can sit in the pocket for 5-6 seconds before throwing the ball, the O-Line is the reason. When your team is on the goal line, the push to get your RB in the end zone is because of the O-Line.
The Philadelphia Eagles have had to endure the 2012 season without their best O-Lineman, and arguably their best overall player, Jason Peters. The All-Pro tore his Achilles tendon during the offseason. He will be able to make a full recovery, but he won’t be ready until next season. The Eagles tried to apply a “quick fix” to the problem, and signed Demetress Bell. All he did was perform horribly in the preseason, and lose his job to King Dunlap. I won’t bore you with what has happened since, but either way you look at it, there is still a gaping hole on the left side of the line.
I think the biggest effect the absence of Peters has had is the play of Evan Mathis. Mathis played at a Pro Bowl level last season, and that great play earned him a large, new contract from the Eagles in the offseason. Mathis fits the Howard Mudd scheme perfectly. He is a smaller-than-typical NFL guard, but he does exactly what the coaching staff wants him to do. This season, Mathis has not been the same player. He looks confused. Even in the first 2 games, when he had the benefit of Jason Kelce next to him, Mathis was still continually getting beat. He continued to miss blocks, and at times he looked completely lost. The only thing I can attribute this poor play to is the absence of Peters. Having an All-Pro next to you makes your job a little easier.
The run game has been run in reverse this year, compared to last. No team ran to the left better than the Eagles. The run ratio this season is almost opposite of what it was last year. Remember when the Eagles were referred to as “the best screen team in football”? That trend started with the long-tenured Tackles of Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas, but was taken to the next level when Peters arrived. The combination of athleticism and strength that Peters brings is unmatched in the NFL. Heck, Peters even played Tight end in college.
As for the QB play, I can’t put all of that on Peters’ absence, but I do think that if Michael Vick had the big man in front of him, some of the hurried throws that have lead to interceptions, may not have occurred. Also, some of the fumbling during sacks, or during runs trying to scamper away from pressure, may not have happened.
The ripple effect of not having Jason Peters has been felt throughout the entire offense. The run game is not the same. The passing game is not the same. The offensive line as a whole is not nearly the same. When defining greatness, maybe the most important factor to consider is how good everyone else around it becomes.