Ask a Philadelphia Eagles fan to name one of the team’s offensive lineman, and most will say Jason Peters.
Peters’ reputation is well-deserved, and this year, he is performing like a top 10 left tackle. However, per footballoutsiders.com, the Eagles are second to last in the NFL in adjusted sack rate (includes intentional grounding and accounts for down, distance and opponent). Pass protection is one of the team’s greatest weaknesses; this is partly because Peters cannot be trusted to single-handedly shut down opposing edge rushers like the top left tackles Joe Thomas, Joe Staley or Trent Williams. His solid play is valuable, but not game changing.
Evan Mathis, on the other hand, has been the singular difference-maker that has elevated the Eagles’ run blocking capabilities into the league’s elite ranks. Mathis is, by far and away, the best offensive guard in football, but he is not merely the top guard in the league; he is playing at a level that puts him in the conversation for best single season by a guard in NFL history.
Mathis came to Philadelphia as a mere camp body in 2011, but during training camp, he flashed an impressive combination of determination and agility, particularly on run plays. He was soon named the starter and immediately became one of the best guards in football, which he parlayed into a five-year, $25 million deal. Despite the Eagles’ offensive line falling apart around him during Andy Reid’s final year in Philadelphia, Mathis’ play actually improved, and he was named to his first Pro Bowl.
This year, he is playing as well as any guard to ever wear an NFL jersey. Per profootballfocus.com, his overall grade (pass blocking and run blocking) is 38.8, which is 12.7 more than the second ranked guard, Josh Sitton, who has compiled a 26.1 overall grade. In the run blocking department, his superiority is simply mind blowing. Mathis’ isolated run blocking grade is 33.8 compared to 14.3 for the next guard on the list – an astounding 19.5 differential.
Mathis’ utter domination has not occurred in a vacuum. The Eagles’ run blocking has been amongst the league’s best, and the results have been extraordinary, as LeSean McCoy leads the league with 1,343 total rushing yards on 5.0 yards per rush.
Interestingly, McCoy’s success has not been immediately attributed to Mathis’ road grader run blocking. NFL experts more often praise Chip Kelly’s up-tempo play calling and zone read blocking scheme. It is logical that, by running plays more quickly, defenders have less time to rest between snaps. Also, by running zone plays out of the shotgun, run plays are well-disguised and set up McCoy to gash defenses from all angles. His unique ability to get around the corner is complimented by a zone read scheme that allows him to dash inside whenever defenders are flowing too aggressively to stop perimeter runs.
So, while the Eagles’ accrued rushing yards are, to an extent, volume and scheme-related, Mathis’ outstanding play is at the crux of the team’s rushing success. In fact, the Eagles are the most effective team in the league at blocking runs over five yards and into the open field. Regardless of the scheme or tempo, Mathis’ speed and quickness enable him to beat defenders to almost any spot, no matter how aggressively they pursue or how widely they angle toward a play.
Despite being the critical cog in the Eagles’ running attack, Mathis is an anonymous superstar. In the most watched, most analyzed, most talked about sport in the United States, he is dominating his position like no other player, and yet no one knows him name. That could change today if McCoy becomes the first running back to rush for more than 300 yards in a game as he takes on a historically bad Chicago Bears‘ run defense. If McCoy somehow does it, his route to the record books will be paved by Mathis.