With both Byron Maxwell (shoulder) and Eric Rowe (concussion) medical concerns for Saturday's night's win-or-no-playoff-hopes showdown against Washington, the next men up are preparing to start at the cornerback positions for this Eagles defense.
E.J. Biggers, who has played 40 percent of the defensive snaps this season, and Jaylen Watkins, signed to the active roster in late November after spending the season on Buffalo's practice squad, know how it works in the NFL: You prepare to be a starter every week and you are ready to go if called upon.
"I'm approaching it the same as every week," said Biggers, who has seen many of his reps this season inside against slot receivers. "Go in, get the same looks in practice, same reps. I'm not going to take it and prepare any different. I'm going to do the same thing. We all get those reps. We all get those looks. That's how I'm going to approach it."
This isn't the way the Eagles envisioned their secondary would look in Week 16 when they rebuilt it in the offseason. They figured that Maxwell would be a starter, with Rowe battling Nolan Carroll for a starting job on the outside. Or maybe Rowe would challenge Walter Thurmond at safety alongside Malcolm Jenkins. Then there was rookie JaCorey Shepherd, who had a chance to be the starting nickel cornerback.
But the plan hasn't unfolded that way. Shepherd was lost for the season when he tore his ACL in a Training Camp practice at Lincoln Financial Field. Carroll fractured his ankle in the loss at Detroit. Now Maxwell and Rowe are iffy for this must-win game.
"That's how it is in this league," said Watkins, a fourth-round draft pick in 2014 who played in four games as a rookie and then was released as the Eagles reached the 53-man roster limit in September. He signed on to Buffalo's practice squad a few days later. "You've got to be ready to go."
Watkins played a career-high 49 snaps in Sunday's loss to Arizona, a valuable learning experience. He had some good moments and some times when he learned on the job. All of that experience paid off, though. He is much more equipped for what might be ahead on Saturday night.
"It was really good, especially for this week. We're playing a vertical passing team and I don't think it can get any better than the Cardinals when it comes to vertical passing," Watkins said. "That experience should be able to carry for us this week.
"I was always told that it's never as good as it looks and it's never as bad as it looks. On the good plays (against Arizona), I thought it looked a lot better but there is always room for improvement. On my bad plays, they were bad plays and they take care of themselves. You've got to get better at that."
Washington will test the secondary with its vertical passing game featuring DeSean Jackson, who is averaging 18.8 yards per reception. There are few better deep threats than Jackson, who did not play against the Eagles in the first meeting between the teams, a 23-20 Washington win on October 4.
"He's one of the best in the league, especially a deep ball guy," said Biggers, who played for Washington in 2013 and 2014 before signing as a free agent with Philadelphia. "He's very elusive, can make you miss any time. He makes great catches down the field. He adjusts to the ball very well. I'd say he's one of the top guys in the league."