Asante Samuel watched practice on Thursday. Juqua Parker missed, too, with a tender hip flexor. Suddenly, the Eagles face the possibility of playing Chicago minus two veteran starters, one a Pro Bowl and game-changing cornerback. What to do? Keep on moving, plug in other players and keep the expectations high and the tone aggressive.
Brandon Graham is in position to start at left defensive end if Parker can't play. Graham stepped up nicely last week against the Giants and flashed some of that superb ability that made him a first-round draft pick in April. Graham forced a fumble, had a couple of tackles, applied some pressure to the backfield. Graham needs to keep it going, needs to step up his consistency and his production and must use his strengths to his advantage.
Samuel is a more tenuous situation. His knee sprain, announced by head coach Andy Reid on Wednesday, is more of a mystery, and certainly is a huge concern. He leads the league in interceptions, is closing out games with his instincts and his hands and Samuel's coverage ability forces teams to throw to the other side. If Samuel can't go -- and it could very well be a game-day decision -- the Eagles will turn to Joselio Hanson, a veteran who has been in these kinds of games many times, and rookie Trevard Lindley.
Every team has injuries at this point in the season and the Eagles are no exception. With two games in a 96-hour period coming, the entire roster will be called on to contribute. This is the final half of the third quarter of the season. The games at Chicago and home with Houston are critical, obviously. At 7-3 in the jumbled NFC playoff race, the Eagles can ill-afford to stub their toes.
And so to win on the road in a hostile environment, the Eagles are going to need a full roster to help. If Parker doesn't play, for example, Graham starts. And Darryl Tapp would have to play some at both end positions. And rookie Daniel Te'o-Nesheim would probably dress and get some snaps. You see how it works.
The war of attrition is here. This is the grind period for the Eagles. Chicago is rested and ls looking to prove its worth as a playoff-caliber team with a win over a quality opponent. This one won't be easy, not by any stretch.
Recent visits to Chicago have been telling. Two years ago the Eagles started the game poorly, mounted a major comeback and then couldn't convert inside the Bears 10-yard line. It was a distressing defeat, and it pointed out some of the deficiencies -- particularly converting in short-yardage situations -- that would come back to haunt the team.
Last year's game was a strong one for the Eagles, although there were some bumps. The Eagles raced out to a 10-0 advantage and then the offense went silent for a long period of time before LeSean McCoy's touchdown run capped a fourth-quarter drive and provided the Eagles with the winning points.
A good start is essential for the Eagles. The offense has had five first-drive touchdowns this season. A sixth on Sunday would be very much welcomed. The Eagles must dictate early to the Bears defense and not allow that fast, free-flowing linebacker corps to make plays. Dissecting the chess match of the Eagles' offense and the Chicago defense is going to be fascinating. The Bears don't budge. The Eagles are explosive and balanced and as complete an offense as Andy Reid has ever had in Philadelphia.
Sunday at 4:15 p.m. can't come fast enough. But between now and then, the Eagles have some work to do, some personnel combinations to figure out and some players to heal.
*NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT *
Chicago will be at full strength for Sunday. Having those extra days of rest -- a benefit the Eagles will enjoy following the game against Houston -- has really helped the Bears. Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa is good to go after being a full participant in practice on Thursday.
- First impressions of new cornerback Brandon Hughes: good body and eager to learn. I'm looking forward to seeing how secondary coach Dick Jauron and assistant Michael Zordich make Hughes a better player.
- Another great test for left tackle Jason Peters ... on the road, against Julius Peppers, who is coming off a three-sack game against the Dolphins. Peters has been outstanding since coming back from his knee surgery. Peppers is a different kind of player, though. He is so athletic and quick off the ball that he challenges with an outside move and power inside. The Bears will move him around to try to create good matchups. The Eagles will keep their eyes on Peppers at all times.
- Is McCoy a Pro Bowl running back? Well, he has put up great numbers this year and he has a player on the other sideline, Matt Forte, who is a comparable player in terms of his all-around production. McCoy makes people miss, while Forte has more power, but both are adept in the receiving game and both pile up the total yards from scrimmage.