"Left on an island". In Pro Football terminology, that phrase normally refers to a defensive back who is without help in pass coverage from a fellow DB or safety; but it also can refer to a young and inexperienced or a struggling offensive tackle who requires additional help from a running back, wide receiver or a tight end to block an outside edge pass rusher.
In nearly 72 more hours from now (this Sunday evening) when the (8-1) Saints host the (4-5) visiting and defending World Champion Philadelphia Eagles at the Mercedes Benz-Superdome, it's also a phrase that accurately depicts the situation that 3rd year Eagles offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai will be facing against New Orleans All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan in a match-up that could be a difference-maker for the Black and Gold.
Vaitai — a 3rd year offensive right tackle drafted by Philly in the 5th Round out of TCU (Texas Christian University) in the 2016 NFL Draft — has struggled mightily this season on several notable occasions in a handful of the Eagles' games; so much so that several observers / analysts covering the Philly team feel that it's been a part of the reason for their recent lack of success in the win column.
Vaitai has had to fill in several times for injured and normally-starting Eagles 1st-team All-Pro offensive right tackle Lane Johnson, who has been dealing with a knee injury for the past few games.
Initially, it was reported that Johnson would miss up to a month with an MCL sprain, although just as recently as yesterday afternoon, Johnson was attempting to get ready for a possible return to the line-up this Sunday.
Philly currently has listed Johnson as "questionable" on their weekly injury report released yesterday, but he could become a game-time decision for this Sunday after he was back at Eagles practice Wednesday Morning.
However, if Johnson is unable to go, then the Eagles essentially will be forced to use Vaitai in that role; a role that has been exceedingly difficult for him to fill this season.
As noted by PhillyVoice,com Eagles writer Jiimy Kempski, Vaitai had his hands full last Sunday Night against Dallas, when he faced Cowboys defensive end / edge pass rusher Demarcus Lawrence, who primarily lines up opposite the right tackle.
This Sunday assuming that Johnson doesn't play, then Vaitai will be facing another great (and underrated) pass rusher in Jordan, who has 6 sacks this season and led the Saints in sacks (13) last year.
Kempski adds that whether it's Vaitai or a less than 100 percent Johnson, the Eagles would be wise to give their starting right tackle additional help this Sunday when lined up directly across from Jordan.
"Cam Jordan is a tremendous pass rusher," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said to Kempski and the rest of the Philadelphia sports media on Wednesday. "One of the elite guys in this league. They'll line him up pretty much anywhere on the D-line."
The word out of Philly by several observers that closely cover their team often suggests at times that Vaitai is NOT a starting-caliber player nor anywhere close to it.
In fact, SB Nation Bleeding Green Nation film analyst Michael Kist says that the Eagles certainly recognize that the 25-year old Vaitai has his faults; and that you can tell this by the way they game-planned around him against the Cowboys.
In his brilliant film study and analysis yesterday (click the highlighted Link right above), Kist makes the observation that if you were to remove six screen passes from the equation, Eagles QB Carson Wentz dropped back 41 times last Sunday night — and Vaitai had to be given aid in the way of tight end / running back blocks or "chips" on 13 of those snaps.
Kist also notes that essentially one-third of non-screen drop-backs by Wentz have had some sort of built-in component to help Vaitai, which he says doesn't count the bevy of RPO (run-pass option) calls that facilitate a fast release whenever Wentz throws the football.
In other words; Vaitai, a former All-Big 12 selection with the Horned Frogs, has MAJOR issues with being able to handle fast / speedy edge pass rushers such as Jordan; and clearly if Johnson were to also miss this contest Sunday evening at the Superdome, it stands to reason that he'll be in need of some help from his teammates yet again.
Obviously, given those observations by both of the Eagles writers noted above, it would be an ideal situation for Jordan; who is having yet another solid season for a Saints pass rush that has seen some major improvement during the past several games.
Without any doubt: if indeed Jordan ends up facing Vaitai, it should serve as yet just one more additional factor that could become a big difference-maker for the Saints, as they seek to win their 9th straight game.
In any event, Halapoulivaati Vaitai could be "left on an island" once again this Sunday at the Superdome. And if Jordan and the Saints defense are able to gain any sort of advantage as most observers expect him to, then it means that that Philly could ultimately find themselves stranded — and without much hope left of rescuing their rapidly-fading 2018 season....