The other day I happened across a statement that demanded further research. It concerned Philadelphia Eagles starting LT Halapoulivaati Vaitai and his performance over the last five weeks. It was a statement so jarring, it even threw Eagles beat reporter Jimmy Kempski of Philly Voice through a loop. The ensuing conversation led me to do some research of Vaitai’s Pro Football Focus Signature Stats to find the truth behind the matter.
Pressures are subjective but according to PFF, over the last 5 games, Big V has allowed 28 pressures on 217 pass blocking snaps. Most pressures by 4 (HST Giacomini w/24), 2nd most sacks allowed (5), ranks 55 out of 55 for pass blocking efficiency.
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) December 20, 2017
Before we delve into this and its implications, let’s travel back to a quieter, simpler time at the tackle position for the Eagles. That’s if you consider RT Lane Johnson serving a 10 game suspension for taking a banned substance (“amino”) a quiet, simpler time (it’s wasn’t). This forced Vaitai into a starter role in Week 5. If you put the Signature Stats for Vaitai, Johnson, and OT Jason Peters side-by-side for the 2016 campaign, there is a stark difference.
Vaitai gave up a pressure on 7.2% of his pass blocking snaps and allowed the same number of sacks as Peters did on 416 less snaps. That’s not a downgrade, that’s a trip down Dante’s Inferno into the Fifth Circle where “the active hatreds rend and snarl at one another; at the bottom, the sullen hatreds lie gurgling, unable even to express themselves for the rage that chokes them”.
The consequences of Johnson’s suspension and Vaitai’s enlarged role in correlation with the Eagles success and rookie QB Carson Wentz’s efficiency are well documented and not worth delving into further, let’s just say it’s significant. To be fair to Vaitai, he was put in an unfair position. He was replacing a Pro Bowl tackle and playing opposite of one of the best, if not the best left tackle in Eagles history. Being thrust into that situation is a large ask for a rookie fifth round pick and it was no surprise he struggled.
2º maior problema é a posição de RT#Eagles perdeu Lane Johnson suspenso e o novato Vaitai sofre até aqui.
— ZONA FA – Podcast (@canalzonafa) October 20, 2016
Vaitai’s season ended with an MCL sprain in Week 11 and the carousel along both tackle positions continued for the remainder of the season. Entering the 2017 NFL Draft, I wondered out loud if offensive tackle was more of an immediate need than was being touted. Peters broke down towards the end of 2016 and Johnson’s future with the team hinged on him not being busted for taking the wrong amino (or whatever) again.
Crazy to think Alabama OT Cam Robinson should be on the Eagles radar? Peters (35y/o) heir apparent, Lane insurance.
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) March 17, 2017
The Eagles decided to address pass rush in the first round, something I won’t second guess as DE Derek Barnett has been impactful as a rookie. Still, the worry about the tackle position lingered as the Eagles entered the 2017 season. It’s as if I was looking from the Sixth Circle into the rings of the Seventh Circle, where the Violent are held, full of Minotaurs and Ryan Kerrigan probably, ready to gnaw at our young quarterbacks’ flesh.
Those fears became reality in Week 7 on Monday Night Football. Peters exited with an apparent right knee injury and it was later revealed that he had tears in his ACL and MCL, ending his season prematurely and sending the Eagles hurtling back into the Pit of Misery.
As the fan based convulsed, anticipating pure doom and destruction from the left tackle position with Vaitai now in place as the starter, it seemed the date of the Apocalypse was incorrect. Vaitai was solid to start, in Week 8 as the interior of the line bled pass rushers to the San Francisco 49ers, Vaitai only allowed one pressure on 36 pass blocking snaps.
The date of The End was pushed back another week. Surely the Denver Broncos pass rush would annihilate the Tongan, right? Wrong again. Big V was perfect (on the stat sheet) for the day, allowing zero pressures on 31 pass blocking snaps. The chatter around him quieted as the Eagles entered the bye. Had we avoided collapse?
Well, if you read the intro, you know that Big V was only delaying the inevitable, so no sense trying create suspense. Even if I include Big V’s solid performances from his first two weeks as a starter, when you give the full picture of his season, it’s bleak. We’re talkin’ “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” type bleak.
Balance remains Vaitai’s biggest issue. The feet slide out, but why? Because V’s weight isn’t over top of them. It’s forward, on Ray. pic.twitter.com/8SlJpBsx5x
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) November 7, 2017
The above video highlights something that Benjamin Solak and I highlighted during the calm before the storm. Vaitai’s balance has always been an issue and it’s something that a box score or Signature Stat won’t show. Too often he is caught over his skiis or on his heels, unable to adjust his track to disrupt what’s coming at or around him.
You’re going to hear this term a lot now that draft season is approaching: “waist-bender”. That term refers to offensive linemen who bend, that’s right, at the waist, and not from at the knees. It’s a bad position to be in and limits your ability to stay engaged.
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) December 6, 2017
Along with the issue of balance and bend, Big V is often caught at improper/shallow depth and is slow to process E-T and T-E stunts.
Allowing pressures and sacks in against these types of rushes happened regularly against the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams.
Robert Quinn beats Big V inside for the sack. Vaitai also got beat inside by Frank Clark for a sack last week. pic.twitter.com/gnH0GOFS3k
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) December 10, 2017
While it may be a surprise that Vaitai is ranked 55 out of 55 qualifying tackles over the last five weeks in PFF’s pass blocking efficiency metric after his solid first two weeks as a starter, the warning signs were there. Here’s how he stacks up against the other Eagles tackles for the entire season:
Look on the bright side… is an expression. In this case, the bright side would be that the Eagles have averaged 31 points in the 5 games since Vaitai began to draw closer to the banners of the King of Hell. Once there, he likely observed all of the sinners encapsulated in ice, distorted and unable to move or speak. Perhaps they were just waist-bending. Dante’s Inferno is, after all, an allegory.
Matchups to watch in Cleveland
On today’s Locked On Eagles:
A look at the key matchups for Sunday’s matchup with the Cleveland Browns.
How will the Eagles defend the Nick Chubb-Kareem Hunt backfield?
Is this the game Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz finally get things right?
Wentz Wednesday: Week 11
On today’s Locked On Eagles:
Carson Wentz went from looking like Jameis Winston all year to Sam Bradford on Sunday
Evaluating the inconsistencies in Wentz’s throwing mechanics that were apparent against New York
Wentz deserves blame without always steering the attention to Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman
Doug and Howie on the hot seat?
On today’s Locked On Eagles:
Even in a first place position…..it is time to think big picture with the Eagles
Are Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman safe beyond 2020?
Should Jeffery Lurie continue to be patient or is a shake-up needed?