In a season of mysteries, Nate Herbig falls well below, “What on earth is wrong with Carson Wentz,” “Why the heck is Jason Peters still playing,” and “Whatever happened to Doug Pederson’s knack for play-calling?”
Still … how Herbig inexplicably went from an established starter at right guard to a healthy scratch is definitely an odd development.
After the Eagles had experimented with Matt Pryor and Jason Peters, Herbig — an undrafted rookie in 2019 — wound up as the Eagles' starting right guard on opening day and he started the first eight games of the season — playing all 567 snaps at either right or left guard, depending on who else was available.
Herbig wasn’t about to make the Pro Bowl, but he was mostly solid, especially for a guy with no experience. O-line coach Jeff Stoutland praised his versatility and his ability to seamlessly switch from right guard to left guard as needed:
“Nate Herbig, he and I had a meeting, he's like, 'Coach, I'll do whatever you want me to do. I’ve played on the left side, I’ve played on the right, it doesn't affect me,’” Stoutland said last month. “I’ve coached players here in the past [where] it was challenging for them. Some players are like that. For Nate, it was not any issue at all. To be able to make that move with Nate, it was better for all of us.”
As late as the Dallas game, Herbig was ahead of Pryor and Sea Opeta on the depth chart.
He was one of only four Eagles to play every snap through eight games. Along with Carson Wentz, Rodney McLeod and Jason Kelce.
But Herbig showed up on the injury report with a finger injury leading up to the second Giants game and although he was healthy enough to be active and briefly get in the game — he played one snap on special teams — Opeta and Pryor started at guard.
Herbig was off the injury report by the time the Eagles returned to practice after the Giants loss, so you figured he'd be back in the lineup.
But 90 minutes before Eagles-Browns kickoff, we learned he wasn’t even active.
That's when you go back and double-check the injury report to make sure he wasn't on it.
Seumalo and Pryor started again in the loss to the Browns, and Opeta played 17 snaps at right guard — not his natural position — when Pryor had to move out to right tackle at one point.
So the Eagles, desperately seeking continuity on the offensive line, arrived at the point where they preferred having Opeta — who had never played right guard — on the field than Herbig, who hadn’t missed a snap the first half of the season, back when the offense was at least doing some good things.
There's obviously a million other factors, but with Herbig the offense was averaging 22 points per game. Without him, it's averaging 17 points per game.
I can’t think of a single instance where a healthy player went directly from starting to inactive.
The Eagles cut Zach Brown last October after he had started the first six games, but he was a 30-year-old linebacker at the end of his career that the Eagles had nothing invested in. Herbig a month ago seemed like a legit prospect.
Pederson explained the move as simply Opeta and Pryor having moved past Herbig on the depth chart.
“There is nothing more to it,” he said. “Opeta has deserved the opportunity right now, and with Isaac coming back, it was just we had all the offensive linemen available and we had to put a couple guys down inactive for the game. Herbie is doing fine. He's doing well. Each week, he's competing for one of those backup spots right now or potentially a starter spot if there is an injury each week.”
So Pryor has gone from getting benched to starting, Opeta has gone from being inactive to starting and Herbig has gone from starting to being inactive.
Hurry back, Brandon Brooks.
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