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Game Balls Becoming a Regular Thing for Eagles Offensive Line

After an early string of injury and illness, OL gainng steam and cohesion with same lineup

PHILADELPHIA — The mini-fridge had to replace the robot, the MBA is holding things down for the veteran Pro Bowl staple, and Lane Johnson went through a serious battle with anxiety and depression.

Through it all, Jeff Stoutland has been able to put together quite an offensive line in Philadelphia.

"To be able to run the ball for what - did we have 200? ... To be able to do that against a defense of that caliber [in Denver] - because that’s a good defense," said Eagles coach Nick Sirianni after the 30-13 drubbing of the Broncos.

"They’ve shown that they’re a good defense. To be able to do that - that’s about those guys in the locker room and that starts with those guys led by Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson. I want to mention all of them, but they all did a great job. 

"Anytime you rush for over 200 yards on offense - you don’t have to ask me who got a game ball The offensive linemen got a game ball because they did a great job."

Back in the summer, the Eagles offensive line was projected to be the strength of a team in transition with five top-tier starters from left to right: Jordan Mailata, Issac Seumalo, Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Johnson.

In training camp, the big question was whether 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard or Mailata would win the left tackle job with the latter outplaying the former until a knee sprain suffered by Dillard put the period on the competition.

When Mailata suffered his own knee injury during the regular season, Dillard performed admirably at LT while Mailata filled in on the right side during Johnson's absence with mental health issues.

With Brooks out at right guard due to a pec injury, rookie Landon Dickerson stepped up first before moving over to LG when Seumalo was lost for the season with a Lisfranc injury. From there Jack Driscoll tagged in at RG with a little Nate Herbig mixed in when Driscoll was ailing.

The musical chairs might seem as overwhelming as 2020 when the Eagles were forced to use a record number of OL combinations, but through it all Stoutland seems to find competency no matter what's at his disposal.

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The group as a whole has led an impressive rushing resurgence over the past month. Over the last three weeks, the ground game has been the best in the NFL -  236 yards in Detroit, 176 against the LA Chargers, and 214 more in Denver.

That's 626 total rushing yards in three games, one of the best stretches in franchise history in an era where passing is all the rage and two game balls for the entire allotment.

Overall, the Eagles are averaging 144.0 rushing yards per game, third in the NFL.

It's no coincidence that that surging ground attack coincides with a line that has played together for four straight weeks since Johnson returned from his battle with anxiety and depression.

"We played really good football these past few weeks, really balanced rushing attack has probably been the best we’ve had here in a while, so I’m excited about that," Johnson said.

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The group in place now from left to right reads Mailata, Dickerson, Kelce, Driscoll and Johnson.

Jordan Mailata

Jordan Mailata

And the chemistry of that group is really picking up steam with Stoutland, perhaps the game's most well-regarded OL coach, the mad scientist behind it all.

"You need that playing next to the same guy and is he going to cover my back on the play and the more and more experience we get to play with the same five guys. ... the connections, one of our core values, is going to rise," Mailata said.

The attention to detail is what allows the Eagles to persevere through injuries while others like Denver, which was down its two starting OTs last Sunday, tend to fall apart.

Mailata, the one-time developmental project, learned so much from a technician like Seumalo and now he's in a position to help a talented rookie like Dickerson learn the NFL game on the fly.

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"I think' with Landon - I love the guy - you guys know I love Big Bopper. It's like a very athletic fridge with Landon. Country strong, insane," Mailata said. "I think with Isaac, very technique-based, everything's like just calculated, it's almost like he's a robot. But he's not a robot-like stiff."

On Johnson's side, his best friend, Brooks, has been replaced by the cerebral Driscoll, the Auburn-MBA, who Sirianni loves.

"We got beasts on the left, me and Jack on the right, Kelce in the middle, and we’re slowly picking up steam," Johnson said.

Picking up steam and blowing defenders off the ball.

"Oh, it's great, it's great," Mailata said of watching the O-Line's dominating blocks but the big man also noted Stoutland won't allow big heads to match the big bodies.

"When you see it and then you see the bad plays and you just like cringing, you're like damn, you just did the same play and you just displaced that dude and you watch the next play and it's like 'what happened there?

"It kind of goes both ways and we really don't blow ourselves up. We really just - Stout will never let you blow it up - so we come in there and we understand. We know the plays that we messed up on."

Next up on the docket for the Eagles is strength vs. strength in the form of the toughest test possible with the NFL's No. 1 ranked run defense in New Orleans, which allows just 72.9 yards on the ground per game.

"They’re very good, very good D-line, very good linebackers, probably the most active linebackers we’ll see," said Johnson. "I have Cam Jordan this week, so tremendous matchup for me. Marcus Davenport is also a great player. Demario Davis in the linebacker corps is very instinctive, breaks up a lot of run game schemes."

-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.