It has been quite a while since the New Orleans Saints have had their entire offensive line on the field together during practice.
The team hasn’t had everyone available since the week leading up to their Nov. 11 game at Cincinnati — a game during which Terron Armstead suffered a torn pectoral muscle. Jermon Bushrod then suffered a hamstring injury during a Week 15 game against the Carolina Panthers.
The Eagles became famous for their ability to shift and transform during last year’s Super Bowl run.
Since then, Armstead came back and got hurt again against the Steelers in Week 16, and Andrus Peat suffered a hand injury that knocked him out of action during the regular-season finale against the Carolina Panthers. Somewhere along the way, Larry Warford picked up a knee injury that he’s been fighting the last few weeks.
But the whole group was back on the field for Wednesday’s practice, which at least creates the possibility that some or all of the players will be available for Sunday’s divisional playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
In fact, nobody was missing from practice.
Bushrod, Armstead, tackle Ryan Ramczyk (should), defensive end Alex Okafor (knee), Warford and Peat were limited.
Armstead wasn't willing to put a percentage on his health, but he did say he feels good. He said playing this week is the goal and that he will play if he is "functional and can produce."
"It's been a tricky injury," he added. "Some things don't bother me at all. Some things bother me more. It's hard to put a percentage on it. I feel pretty good, though. I'm doing a lot better."
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The development is significant because the health of the offensive line could decide New Orleans' playoff run. When those players are healthy and operational, the offensive line becomes the strength of the team.
When pieces are missing, the offense can still find a way around it. The Saints were without Terron Armstead during a 48-7 win over the Eagles. But he was also missing during a three-game stretch against Dallas, Tampa Bay and Carolina when the offense had trouble moving the ball and Drew Brees at times faced more pressure than usual.
When Alvin Kamara looks across the line of scrimmage and sees a linebacker across from him, he only has one thought.
New Orleans would probably be fine without him, or any of the other offensive linemen, this week against the Eagles. Singularly, the Saints have the depth to overcome just about any injury on the line.
The issues become more pronounced if multiple players are on the shelf and the team needs to go further down the depth chart to fill gaps.
Philadelphia blitzed on 33 percent of Brees’ dropbacks during the first meeting and still only managed to create pressure on five or six plays. He was never sacked and was hit only once.
If viewed without further context, that game severely alters the picture of a pass rush that tied for eighth in the league with 44 sacks. So, while it might be a hard sell in New Orleans, the Eagles’ do have a productive pass rush that can create problems even when everyone is healthy.
They still have to go out and execute and put that talent to use. Doing so will be a lot harder if New Orleans has most or all of its players back on the line this week. There is still a long way to go before Sunday arrives. The good news is, those guys are on the field. That at least opens up the possibility of them playing.
If nothing else, it is an essential first step.
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