Good news: With Sunday’s win the Eagles are 9-2 in games Lane Johnson has started during the Doug Pederson era.
Bad news: Johnson, the team’s anchor on the right side of the offensive line, suffered a concussion during the 34-7 win over Arizona and missed the second half of the game. He was replaced by backup tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who filled in admirably and is the likely starter Thursday night in Carolina if Johnson doesn’t pass the concussion protocol tests in time. Given the short week, that would be unlikely.
Update: He’s out.
Really bad news: The Eagles are 2-8 in games Johnson didn’t play over the last two seasons.
This injury may keep Johnson out of the Panthers game, but it’s nothing compared to losing him for 10 games last season because of a PED suspension. At 4-1 on the season, the Eagles are two games up on Washington, who sits at 2-2 during the team’s bye week. The Cowboys are 2-3 after Sunday’s last-minute loss to Green Bay, while the Giants are a total mess, at 0-5 after losing to the Chargers in a game in which three receivers went out injured, including Odell Beckham Jr., who broke his leg.
OBJ wasn’t the only marquee player to go down in Week 5, as Houston’s J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus both went down with season-ending injuries. So by comparison, the Eagles should feel kind of lucky their injuries haven’t been worse. Or, better said, the Eagles should feel fortunate they keep winning despite all the players out of the lineup, and as bad as things have been through five weeks, they’re 4-1 and only two guys are out for the year.
“It’s the resiliency of the football team,” Coach Doug Pederson said when asked Monday about winning in the face of all the key players going down. “The never quit, the don’t quit mentality. The next guy up mentality — all those things we talk about as a football team is what you’re seeing. And the coaches are putting them in situations to be successful too, on the field, and preparing them. In the defensive line case, we’re rotating those guys, so really, you’ve got eight starters, just about, because they’re all getting time in the game.”
The Eagles have been without Fletcher Cox for two and a half games as the team’s best defensive lineman nurses an injured calf. With the short week heading into Carolina, chances are Cox will not play against Cam Newton and the Panthers. The team has also been without defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao, Cox’s back-up on the team’s depth chart.
So who’s been the “next man up” so far this season? Almost everyone. Tim Jernigan led all defensive linemen in snaps Sunday, while Brandon Graham has been all over the place, as well. Vinny Curry and Chris Long are getting the majority of the snaps at defensive end across from Graham, while rookie Derek Barnett was on the field for 26 of the team’s 60 defensive snaps. Cox and Vaeao have been spelled by Beau Allen, Justin Hamilton and Elijah Qualls.
Ronald Darby is still out with his dislocated ankle suffered in Week 1. Rasul Douglas, Patrick Robinson and a roll of duct tape have been anchoring that cornerback position ever since.
Jalen Mills continues to keep the other corner position locked down (relative term) while the safeties get healthy. Thank the football gods for Malcolm Jenkins at safety, and now that Rodney McLeod seems back to full strength and Corey Graham is back in the mix, things are relatively back to normal in the secondary.
“The players take it upon themselves,” Pederson said Monday when asked about guys stepping in for injured teammates. “They know the importance of getting themselves ready to play. It goes down to all 53 on the roster that have to prepare themselves like starters and get themselves ready to go.”
If Vaitai gets the start at right tackle, Isaac Seumalo, the team’s starting left guard out of training camp who has been relegated to the bench for the last few weeks, will be the only backup at tackle.
If Wendell Smallwood isn’t available at running back — he missed Sunday’s game after what was probably his best game as a pro the week before — Corey Clement, signed off the practice squad, and Kenjon Barner, signed off the street, will continue to be LeGarrette Blount’s backups. Barner, who was signed because both Donnel Pumphrey and Darren Sproles are out for the year, came up huge on special teams Sunday.
Speaking of special teamers being signed off the street, the Eagles continue to employ cult hero Jake Elliott at kicker and Rick Lovato at long snapper, making only six positions the Eagles haven’t had to replace a starter: center, wide receiver, tight end, linebacker, punter and quarterback.
Let’s not even start to talk about how thin the team is at most of those positions, tight end and perhaps center notwithstanding. For now, Eagles fans should be happy that it’s just their best defender in Cox, their best corner in Darby, their best do-everything back in Sproles, and, most likely, their best lineman in Johnson out, with three of the four expected back in the next few weeks, if not sooner. Add in first-round pick Sidney Jones, who began running last week, and who knows, maybe the Eagles will get healthy at the right time to make a serious run later in the year.
For now, they’ve been able to stem the tide of injuries. But Johnson’s has come at the worst time, with the Eagles on a short week against another top playoff contender in the NFC. Missing Johnson for a half against a beaten down Cardinals team was one thing. Asking the Eagles offensive line to replace him at Carolina might be too much to overcome. But on the bright side, whoever gets hurt this Thursday — because we know it’ll be somebody — will have a few extra days to get healthy in time for Washington.