More changes. More uncertainty.
The Eagles head into a critical handful of days here – Sunday against Baltimore and Thursday the New York Giants come to town – and, as has been the case the entire season, the lineup is changing and the team isn't yet quite sure on the availability of players for Sunday, at least. It is time to go through some news and notes and get caught up here with such a huge test against Baltimore imminent …
1. The offensive line has had zero continuity this year. Zero. Lane Johnson didn't play in the opening game and was in and out of games against San Francisco and Pittsburgh. He didn't practice all week because of his ankle injury and he's out for Sunday. Rookie Jack Driscoll took the snaps all week and will start. Added to that, the Eagles won't have right guard Matt Pryor for Sunday because of an illness, so newly acquired Jamon Brown gets the start. In case you're counting, Brown will be the fourth guard to start a game this season, and that doesn't include Brandon Brooks, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the spring. Isaac Seumalo hasn't played since Week 2. Nate Herbig has started all five games – two at right guard and three at left guard. Pryor had started the last three games at right guard.
Driscoll started the opener at Washington at right tackle. Jordan Mailata makes his third start at left tackle on Sunday. Even in Weeks 4 and 5, when the Eagles actually started the same five players, Johnson's injury prevented him from staying on the field – 37 snaps at San Francisco and 39 snaps at Pittsburgh.
2. The Eagles hoped that wide receiver Alshon Jeffery would be on the field by now, and that's why they kept him on the 53-man roster rather than place him on the Physically Unable to Perform list prior to the start of the regular season. But that hasn't happened, and Jeffery is still working his way back into the lineup.
"When you don't put a guy like Alshon on PUP – we hopefully anticipated him coming back within the six weeks, and it has taken a little bit longer, but again, you guys know that I want to make sure that he's 100 percent," Pederson said. "He's just now getting back into practice, right? He's done some individual work and now he's into practice. I mean, listen, I think medically Alshon's case, our case, we were hopeful that within the six weeks he would have been back. I can't second-guess the decision, obviously, but he is getting close, and we're excited about that."
3. DeSean Jackson "had a really good day yesterday," said Pederson on Friday, but he will not play against the Ravens. Having Jackson and his speed, something the Eagles need in this offense, would give Baltimore more to think about, but that won't be the case. The Eagles will have J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Travis Fulgham, John Hightower, Greg Ward, and Quez Watkins. Let's hope for Jeffery and Jackson against New York.
4. Nobody really spends much time talking about special teams, but now is the time: Baltimore's unit is great in every phase, and the Ravens are certainly going to challenge the Eagles in the battle for field position on Sunday. The kickoff return game is a good place to start – last week the Eagles had no success returning kickoffs and the offense was saddled with terrible field position in the game.
Said Special Teams Coordinator Dave Fipp this week: "At the end of the day, we did not play well enough in that phase. We've got to do a better job on kickoff return. We just didn't do a good enough job at executing. I would say I did not do a good enough job of coaching it. We had moved some guys around. We had some players in and out and I shuffled some guys around. I think I talked a week ago to you guys about moving some guys, trying to get them in more optimal positions. I would say some of those decisions, looking back on it in hindsight weren't great by me, that's my fault.
"I don't think we probably had our best execution. I think a lot of guys would say that on some of those plays. I would say this, at the end of the day we got to get a lot better, in a lot of areas. There's a long season to go. We've got to continue to look to improve and certainly we've got to improve a lot on our kickoff return."
5. Cornerback Darius Slay is out of the concussion protocol and has been cleared to play Sunday, and he'll get a long look at Marquise Brown, who has 22 receptions for 319 yards and a touchdown. That's an average of 14.5 yards per catch. He defines "explosiveness" in a player. Baltimore wins with its terrific running game, keyed by quarterback Lamar Jackson, but Brown on the outside and tight end Mark Andrews – 18 receptions, 222 yards, a whopping five touchdowns – on the inside give the Ravens threats in the passing game, too.
Yeah, the Eagles have another challenge covering the tight end, something they've had trouble with this season. Nothing is ever easy. With linebacker Duke Riley out, look for young linebackers Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley. Alex Singleton and Nate Gerry are the other healthy linebackers. And Will Parks will play a big part in this game, potentially. As of Friday afternoon, he had not been added to the 53-man roster.
6. Miles Sanders has had 95-plus total yards from scrimmage in the four games he has played. He is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and his 74-yard touchdown run was a thing of beauty last week. He's off to a strong start, but it's going to be very difficult on Sunday with the offensive line changing once again. The Steelers dominated the Eagles' running game other than the touchdown sprint. Philadelphia has to be much better on Sunday. Sanders is being smothered – and not just in the running game. Defenses are chipping him, using a safety over the top on him, and generally paying far more attention to him in the passing game than they did last season. Giving Sanders more touches would really help this offense.