The Philadelphia Eagles scored touchdowns on their opening two possessions and racked up 146 yards of total offense in the first quarter on Sunday. They seemed to have the Miami Dolphins on the ropes.
But as the game wore on, the Eagles increasingly failed to hold up at the point of attack. Running plays were being stuffed in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Sam Bradford was under constant duress and was eventually knocked out of the game.
Over the final 45 minutes, the Eagles offense managed just one scoring drive, a field goal, and it wasn't enough, as the Dolphins went on to win 20-19. You can thank a patchwork offensive line for that.
There was no reason for the Eagles to struggle as much as they did with the Miami front. The Dolphins entered the week ranked 31st in the NFL against the run and had just 16 sacks. On Sunday, they held Philadelphia to 2.3 yards per carry while racking up four sacks and 10 hits on the quarterback.
Prior to Sunday, the Eagles had run for over 150 yards in four straight games, and Bradford had only been sacked multiple times once in the last five games. Where was that line?
The Eagles' interior linemen looked especially overmatched, particularly by All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
"It looked like we struggled at times to handle their inside guys, specifically Suh," Eagles head coach Chip Kelly observed. "But we had a little momentum going there for us. We didn't capitalize on that third drive, and then we ended up missing the field goal.
"Then after that a lot of it was trying to get the quarterback away from them. That's where we ran a lot of naked and bootlegs to try to get the quarterback out of the pocket and try to stay away from that rush."
Kelly should know. He's largely responsible for the state of the Eagles' line, which has been a patchwork affair all season.
The head-coach-turned-personnel-czar released starting guards Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis, a two-time Pro Bowler, during the offseason—the latter unnecessarily over a salary dispute. The Eagles as an organization also haven't drafted an offensive lineman since taking Lane Johnson with the fourth overall pick in 2013, cutting into the squad's depth.
So when seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters is out, Johnson must slide over from the right side. He's replaced by long-time reserve Dennis Kelly.
After Andrew Gardner—who won the right guard job out of training camp seemingly by default—wound up on injured reserve, it was undrafted third-year Matt Tobin filling his shoes.
And following Mathis' surprise release in June, the job at left guard fell on Allen Barbre, a career journeyman.
As the line gained continuity, the unit not surprisingly seemed to improve. However, injuries and a dominant performance by one of the game's best defenders finally conspired to limit the Eagles offense.
Holding and procedure penalties constantly put the offense in unfavorable down-and-distance situations. Philadelphia managed just 48 yards on the ground from the second quarter on. Ultimately, the Eagles had to attempt to win the game with Mark Sanchez under center after Bradford suffered a shoulder injury and concussion in the third quarter.
Sanchez came close to guiding the Eagles back, but close doesn't count for much in the NFL. It was a missed opportunity for the team to go over .500 for the first time this season.
"It was big," Johnson said. "I felt like we had this game won. We let it slip out of our fingers. That was the toughest part."
It was a game the Eagles could not afford to lose, but football is a simple game. It all starts up front, and they lost the battle there, failing to run with any consistency or keep the quarterback upright—and now they're back below .500.
All quotes obtained by the author.