During football season, we roll out a twin TV setup in the living room with the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package showing on both. This past week we had a couple of Texans fans over and the Eagles weren't playing, so we watched the Houston game on the big screen.
The Texans really are a different team this year under first-year coach Gary Kubiak. They're still not the most talented bunch, but they play hard and look like a well-coached team ... most of the time.
Their passing offense is particularly interesting. When they run quick plays out of three-step drops, they look unstoppable. Carr has great timing with his receivers and they're very adept at picking up nice little chunks of yardage. However, any time Carr extended his drop to give deeper routes time to develop, all hell broke loose.
Without seeing the coaches tape, it's hard to say exactly what was going wrong, but "jailbreak" is a pretty reasonable description. Carr was sacked four times in the game and it could easily have been more.
That game illustrated, once again, the importance of the offensive line. The Texans have a decent quarterback and very good receivers, but without the blocking needed to get the most out of them.
As bad as the Eagles' season has been so far, fans haven't been in much of a mood for passing out compliments to any part of the team. But the offensive line really seems to be doing a good job this year. My dominant offensive recollection from the beginning of the year is Donovan McNabb bouncing on his toes in the pocket for seemingly an eternity before flinging the ball 40 yards downfield to one of his receivers. The last couple weeks that has gone out the window, but the line has picked up the slack by run-blocking extremely well for Westbrook, Buckhalter and -- oh right, the explosive Ryan Moats doesn't even see the field any more. So just Westbrook and Buck, then.
Of course, our eyes can deceive us, so I went back and looked at some statistics from past years in a way that will be sure not to satisfy the sabermetric baseball phans who show up here, but is still at least somewhat illuminating.
The specific contributions of the offensive line are pretty difficult to measure, but I think three statistics can probably give us a pretty good idea of how they're performing: yards-per-carry, yards-per-completion (does the QB have time to wait for deep routes to develop) and sacks-per-attempt. Obviously, the performance of a lot of other players goes into these numbers, but the Eagles have been pretty stable at the skill positions, with Westbrook and McNabb being the featured players for some time now (leaving aside he who must not be named). Here are the numbers:
This year's line is tops across the board, even exceeding the performance of the great Eagles offense of 2004, with Owe-- oops. Not only has the line been better, it's been a lot better, despite all the struggles of recent weeks.
Now clearly we would expect the yards-per-completion number to go down, both because Garcia doesn't have McNabb's arm and because opposing defenses are being very careful in the secondary against us. But there's little reason to believe the other numbers will get much worse (assuming Westbrook stays healthy / please God grant us this one small favor / it can't be good that I'm starting to refer to him as Brian "Knock on Wood" Westbrook).
Offensive linemen don't get much credit even in the best of times, but it's worth pointing out that a unit Reid has been overhauling over the past couple years is looking like a real bright spot. Maybe the talent evaluator knows something after all.
One more note. The Football Outsiders guys have their own crazy deep offensive line rankings. By their numbers, the Eagles' line is among the best at run-blocking, but mediocre in pass protection, which certainly seems counter-intuitive.
But if you scroll down that page a bit, you can see their figures for running success behind different parts of the line. Not surprisingly, the Eagles are particularly good at running over right tackle, and quite good everywhere else but left tackle. With former USC standout Winston Justice already in the bullpen, that could be a sign that William Thomas' days as an Eagle are coming to an end.