Halapoulivaati Vaitai Thriving for Eagles in Place of Injured Jason Peters

Everybody thinks Halapoulivaati Vaitai is playing lights out right now.

Everybody except Big V himself. 

Vaitai is 3 ½ games into his stint as Jason Peters' replacement at left tackle, and the results are impressive.

The Eagles haven't lost since Vaitai took over for Peters just after halftime of the second Redskins game, back in late October, and the offense hasn't slowed down at all.

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How would he grade himself?

"Not very high," Vaitai said Tuesday. "Reason why? Because I don't feel like I'm doing the best I can at left tackle. I'm working very very hard to achieve that goal. 

"I tend to second guess, I tend to rush through things. I need to be more patient. … You know me. I like to criticize myself."

But the reality is that there's been no discernible dropoff with the second-year fifth-round pick at left tackle.

Pro-rating the two halves of the Redskins game, which Peters and Vaitai split, here are the Eagles' averages with each of them on the field:

With Peters: 28 points per game, 382 yards per game, 4.3 yards per carry, 131 rushing yards per game, 2.9 sacks per game.

With Vaitai: 35 points per game, 367 yards per game, 5.0 yards per carry, 170 rushing yards per game, 1.4 sacks per game.

Obviously, there are a million factors that go into those figures, but the bottom line is the offense has been motoring along just fine with Vaitai protecting Carson Wentz's blind side.

"Like they say, 'the next man up,'" Vaitai said. "It's sad to see what happened to J.P. Just one of those deals where you have to be ready filling in that role. 

"The good thing is J.P. is still by my side. He texts me every now and then. He texts me before the game, he calls me after, tells me what I need to work on. J.P. always says, 'just calm down, get to your spot and you'll be OK.' It's just really, really good and makes me feel like he's right there next to me." 

Vaitai started six games in place of Lane Johnson at right tackle last year, and the plan was always for Johnson to move over to left tackle when Peters retired or in the event he got hurt.

But the combination of Johnson's off-the-charts play at right tackle combined with Vaitai's encouraging progress convinced the Eagles to just make the one-for-one switch.

"He's done a great job," Jason Kelce said. "It's extremely hard to play with a backup tackle in this league. Most teams aren't fortunate to have two tackles who can block 1-on-1 on the edge. The fact that he can go in there and hold down that position for us … I don't want to say he's Jason Peters, but he's definitely done his job."

The Eagles' 37-9 win over Dallas Sunday night was Vaitai's best game yet.

He had a crushing block that helped spring Jay Ajayi on his 71-yard game-breaking run in the second quarter, and he neutralized Cowboys defensive end Tyrone Crawford, who didn't record a single tackle. In all, the Cowboys had no sacks in the Eagles' 37-9 win.

And it's not like the Eagles are giving him a ton of help anymore.

"The first week or two that he's in, you're probably thinking, 'on any play that's a longer-developing play, we better give him chip help,'" offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "The more and more confidence you gain in a player, you know what? 'We can give him help but I'd really rather keep the back over on the right side for this play.' We've given him less help in that regard."

This is a veteran offensive line, with Stefen Wisniewski, Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Johnson all in at least their fifth season.

It's a great situation for a 24-year-old second-year pro.

"They have confidence in me, so it's really good to have those guys," Big V said. "Wiz helps me out a lot, a lot of the calls when I can't hear Kelce, he tells me. It's really, really fun playing with those guys. Lane on the other side, he comes over to my side, 'how you doing man?'"

He's doing great.

"He's really progressing," Johnson said. "He may have a few bad plays here and there, but he's really settling in. The more he plays the better he's going to do. He's shown up."

What's he getting better at?

"Pass pro, he's not leaning as much," Johnson said. "Once he gets his hand on somebody, usually he's pretty strong. (And) probably just recognizing when different blitzes are coming, fronts. Probably just his football IQ coming up a little bit. 

"You don't try to do what (Peters) does, you try to do what you can do, and I think in the big picture that's what he's done. Quietly, man, he's been playing really well."

It's not easy to replace a Hall of Famer. Vaitai knows he can't be Jason Peters. But he doesn't have to be. It turns out just being himself isn't too bad.

"You can't be a Jason Peters or whoever it might be," Doug Pederson said. "It's like when I was in Green Bay playing, you can't be Brett Favre. You've got to be you and be the best that you can be, and that's the case with Vaitai. 

"Just let your talents show, trust your ability, trust your instinct, and good things are going to happen. And that's what you're seeing out of him."

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