A Storied Battle in the Trenches : Kony Ealy vs Morgan Moses

Morgan Moses was a prospect who many draft analysts believed the Panthers should have grabbed in the 2014 draft. The Panthers were in need of a tackle, and Moses was a higher-end, second-tier tackle who was available. Todd McShay projected Moses to go 17 to the Dolphins, but he was there when the Panthers picked Kelvin Benjamin in the 1st Round, and still there at #60 when Carolina picked Kony Ealy in the 2nd Round. Moses went six picks after Ealy to the Washington Redskins.  The Panthers didn’t take a tackle in that draft. Instead, Dave Gettleman scooped up Trai Turner, who was slated to be a guard from the beginning, in the 3rd round.  He then rolled the dice with Byron Bell at left tackle.

Carolina had taken a pass-rusher at a time when they had Charles Johnson and franchise tagged Greg Hardy. Critics contended, “They needed to pick an offensive tackle and they didn't."  Ealy had potential and the Panthers touted that they had a 1st round grade on him, but was Carolina really going to trot out Byron Bell at left tackle, instead of trying to get a guy like Moses whom they could begin developing?

What confused draft experts and many fans, turned out to be fortuitous. Ealy, who Carolina intended to develop slowly behind Greg Hardy, was rushed into action because of Hardy’s off-field problems. Ealy wasn’t ready.  He had tremendous upside, but he had a tough rookie camp and didn’t necessarily perform to the expectations that came with his “1st round grade.” Although Bell turned out to be a bust at left tackle, Morgan Moses, too struggled in Washington. Bell may have not been the answer, but Moses certainly didn’t look like the solution.

Moses, like Ealy, was rushed into action, and at a position which he really wasn’t well-suited --left tackle. When All-Pro Trent Williams went down, the Redskins had to move the green rookie to the left side, where he looked “much more like the rookie NFL scouts saw, than the player once projected to go in the middle of the first round.”  

Late in the season, Moses was placed on IR because of a Lisfranc injury. Moses, however, made the most out of the unfortunate injury, stating “[I was] able to sit behind the plays and look and watch those guys perform and work at it every day. That way when I came back I would be mentally prepared and all I would have to do is worry about the physical aspect.”

Moses’ dedication has paid off more than expected.  The Redskins offensive line has played exceptionally well this season, allowing only 12 sacks this season.  Now playing right tackle, the former Cavalier has been a big part of this success. His improved his technique and returned a better pass and run blocker.  His impressive play has repeatedly drawn the praise of Head Coach John Gruden, stating, "Morgan has solidified himself as a right tackle in the National Football League for many, many, many years."

400 miles south in Charlotte, another player has mounted a notably improved sophomore campaign.  Kony Ealy’s stats won’t blow many away, but he has played an important role on Carolina’s defensive front and their undefeated run.  

Sacks & Tackles
Rk G# Opp Result Sk Tkl Ast
1 1 @ JAX W 20-9 0.0 0 0
2 2 HOU W 24-17 0.0 0 2
3 3 NOR W 27-22 0.0 0 4
4 4 @ TAM W 37-23 0.0 2 3
5 5 @ SEA W 27-23 0.0 2 1
6 6 PHI W 27-16 0.0 1 3
7 7 IND W 29-26 1.0 1 4
8 8 GNB W 37-29 1.0 1 0
9 9 @ TEN W 27-10 1.0 1 0
9-0-0 3.0 8 17
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/18/2015.

Like Moses, Ealy stumbled in his rookie year, but he hasn’t fallen.  “I think he came in a little overconfident about his abilities,” Coach Rivera commented. He’s recommitted himself to better doing the “extra things —  pushing...that extra inch and digging deep,” Ealy said.  

Over the last three games, Ealy has had 3 sacks, 2 QB hits, 8 hurries, and 1 forced fumble.  Ealy has been doing the “dirty work,” switching from right to left defensive end following the addition of Jared Allen.  He’s rotated between defensive end and tackle, and his versatility has made a difference. 

Kony Ealy rookie training camp

Kony Ealy rookie training camp

Those “extra things” Ealy noted don’t all show up in the stats. Against Green Bay, Jonathan Jones reported, “On third-and-14 near midfield, Ealy got a great jump off the ball, knocked right tackle Brian Bulaga’s hands away and pushed him to the ground with his left arm. Rodgers felt the pressure coming and threw the ball away deep and out of bounds, setting up the Packers for a fourth-and-long.”

Ealy’s success, again like Moses, has come from improved technique. Ealy looked patient, improved in holding edge contain, and looking to offensive tackles with more than just the bull-rush.  He’s playing smarter, defensive coordinator Sean Mcdermott alluded, stating he’s “done a great job of remaining coachable going through those challenges. And if he keeps doing that he’ll only get better.”

Sunday brings a unique opportunity juxtapose the player Carolina selected with the player many thought they should select.  Ealy and Moses will lineup against each other Sunday at Bank of America.  If the Redskins are going to end Carolina’s undefeated run, they’ll need to protect Kirk Cousins and win the time of possession battle with an effective rushing attack.  Conversely, Carolina will need to limit Washington’s rushing attack and generate pressure to prevent Cousins from going downfield to DeSean Jackson, a feat where Ealy winning his matchup would greatly help.

Even though the two haven't been in the league for two full seasons, It’s a storied matchup. Two players who could have realistically dressed in the opposite colors on Sunday.  Both had disappointing rookie seasons, but have bounced back impressively in the face of much criticism.  Their success, both, has come from hard work, resilience, and attention to detail.  It won’t be surprising if this battle is determined by “technique.”

By the Professor, aka Tony Dunn
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