EAGLES WILL LEAN ON BACKUP JACK DRISCOLL TO SURE UP STRUGGLING O-LINE
For all its decorations as an offensive line: Great ratings with Pro Football Focus, three of the five starters making this year’s Pro Bowl (Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Landon Dickerson) and endless nods from local and national pundits as the “best offensive line in football,” this unit is not producing anything close to the level it achieved during the first 12 or 13 games this season.
That should be of tremendous concern to Eagles coaches and fans as the Birds head into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed.
Against the Giants backups, the Eagles did rush for 135 yard, but gave up three sacks to their meal ticket quarterback Jalen Hurts. The Eagles got into the end zone once, settling for five field goals.
Dickerson managed to get a brilliant touchdown catch by DeVonta Smith voided for being illegally downfield on a play at the Giants two-yard line.
Against New Orleans, Dickerson’s holding call (a bad call, but he was still flagged), negated a great touchdown run by Kenneth Gainwell.
The Birds only rushed for 67 yards as a team and backup QB Gardner Minshew was sacked six times.
Against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, Minshew wasn’t sacked, but the Eagles only managed 87 yards rushing and turned the ball over four times. This is the game where it is believed All Pro right tackle suffered a sports hernia that has sidelined him ever since.
Against the Chicago Bears, The Eagles rushed for 112 yards, but turned the ball over three times and allowed one sack.
And when Bears defensive end Trevis Gipson landed with all his body weight while tackling Hurts, the blow caused a significant shoulder injury to the franchise quarterback and put the dreams of a Super Bowl run in jeopardy.
Not a great stretch for those entrusted with protecting its signal caller.
Jack Driscoll, a tackle/guard drafted in the fourth round out of Auburn in the 2020 draft has been starting in place of Johnson while he mends his torn abductor.
Johnson has put off surgery and plans to play in the playoffs that start for the Birds January 21 or 22.
“We have a lot of stuff we have to clean up,” Driscoll said at his locker after the 22-15 win over the Giants securing the No. 1 seed and the NFC East title. “We have to go back to the drawing board, get better. We need our best from here on out.
“Obviously it’s great that we won and we clinched, ideally,” Driscoll continued. “You always want to play better. We are going to have to figure it out.”
RPO (run, pass option) plays may have caused some of the offensive linemen to get called for being illegally downfield all season.
Linemen have no idea what the play is developing into, so some get sucked into moving upfield prematurely.
“[The referees] had given us a couple of warnings,” Driscoll said. “It’s tough when you’re engaged with a guy, but the rule is the rule and rules are the rules for everyone. [The refs] are making it a habit of calling it this year, so we’ve got to go back and look at what we can do better so we don’t put ourselves in that position again.”
Driscoll was asked what the O-linemen say to each other in the huddle after big penalties like the ones on Dickerson over the final two regular season games that voided touchdowns.
“Everyone is in the moment, it is heated, but you’ve got to chase that back and not let that affect us,” Driscoll then gave an example of the conversation. “‘We’ve got to go score again! It’s a five-yard penalty, it’s not a loss of down.’ Whatever the situation is, screw it…next play.’
“I think coach (Jeff) Stoutland, (Jason) Kelce and Isaac (Seumalo) do a great job of making sure that we don’t dwell on it. [The opponents] are not going to feel bad for us.”
Realistically, Johnson will have a tough time managing his injury. There is a good chance the 32-year-old will start games and need a replacement at some point.
That is where Driscoll comes in. Is that fair? Probably not.
“That’s the life of a backup,” Driscoll said. “Until Lane got hurt two weeks ago, that’s what I was. At any point, one of those guys on the line could go down. It’s my job to step up and do my best to make sure the offense does not miss a beat.”
The Driscoll-Johnson situation has not been talked about much. That might be the biggest compliment Driscoll and respected offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland can receive…silence.
Shane Steichen was asked about Driscoll’s performance after the loss to New Orleans where the backup held his own against Saints standout defensive end Cam Jordan.
"I thought he did a good job," Steichen said. "I really did. He battled. He did a nice job. Obviously, he was firm in there at times, and then in the run game he was solid too. Feel good about Jack Driscoll, where he is at.”
Driscoll said he will just go out and do his job when called on.
“Whatever Lane’s situation is, I’ll be ready to go,” the 6-foot-5, 318 pounder said. “Obviously everyone hopes Lane is good to go. He’s the best tackle in the league. I know he’s doing everything in his power to get back.”
Driscoll was asked to evaluate his performances filling in for Johnson.
“Obviously I have a lot to improve on,” Driscoll said after the season finale. “Looking back at last week, then this week…there’s stuff I need to improve on. My goal is to get better every rep, get that experience. I want to fix things, correct things and hopefully improve my game. There is a long way to go. I have to go back and look at myself in the mirror and see what I need to improve on. From here on out it’s going to be a big test.”
A big test indeed. Eagles fans are hoping for three big tests. *
Email Al Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org
00515: Eagles drafted Jack Driscoll in the fourth round in 2020 out of Auburn. He has proven to be a versatile option at guard and tackle. Photo by Andy Lewis.
05013: Eagles tackle Jack Driscoll drew praise from his coach after he held his own against New Orleans Saints standout defensive end Cam Jordan. Photo by Andy Lewis.
4846: Eagles fans will not like the sight of All Pro right tackle Jane Johnson in street clothes on the Birds sideline. He has vowed to give a go in the playoffs. Photo by Andy Lewis.
5630: Eagles Lane Johnson is widely regarded as the best right tackle in the game. Photo by Andy Lewis.