As the Eagles prepare to welcome back some players to their offense, namely running back Brian Westbrook and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, Denver is going to be without some key contributors in wide receiver/kick returner Eddie Royal and special teams standout Spencer Larsen. Such is the nature of the NFL. The long season is a war of attrition. From week to week, fortunes change based on players that emerge from the athletic training room feeling good enough to play.
I've written about this before and it can be repeated again: Head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder and his staff are as important to the fortunes of this team as anything. Burkholder is in constant conference with head coach Andy Reid and those health updates are critical as the coaching staff plans to play a game.
Even for players who are not injured, the athletic training room becomes a multiple-times daily visiting spot. Everyone in the NFL is hurt right now, even if he isn't injured. The players need constant treatment, ice baths, massages, and the camaraderie of the athletic training room. Burkholder and his staff work night and day, every night and day, and their jobs are to get the players healthy enough to play effectively on game days.
It has long been established that the Eagles have an excellent situation with Burkholder in charge. We're seeing the benefits this season.
Westbrook suffered two concussions in a span of three weeks and since then has not played. It will have been six weeks since his last action. The Eagles continued to work Westbrook to keep his conditioning level high and they worked him into the practice routine for two weeks before giving him the go-ahead to play against Denver.
Maclin tore a plantar fascia ligament in his foot in the win over the Giants and the initial reports were that he would miss one to two games. After practicing all week, Maclin should play against Denver after missing the victory over San Francisco.
Thus, the Eagles welcome back two huge pieces in the offense and that is just a gigantic bonus at this stage of the season. Most teams are losing players and the Eagles are getting a couple back in the lineup.
Denver, meanwhile, is going to play without wide receiver/kick returner Eddie Royal and special teams standout Spencer Larson. Royal has 39 catches this year, a large step down from last year's 91-catch output as a rookie. Royal averages 24 yards per kickoff return and 11 yards on punt returns. Royal and Brandon Marshall team to give defenses fits. Marshall is all size and toughness and Royal is the quick, squirty-type of receiver who is hard to cover in short areas.
Without Royal, the Broncos lose an element of their offense. They'll replace him with Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney and some Brandon Stokely. All good players. None of them are as good as Royal, even though Royal's numbers mysteriously dropped this year.
Another player to watch is cornerback Ty Law, Denver's choice when they bring a third corner on the field. He has been limited all week with a hamstring injury and is going to be a game-time decision. If Law can't play, the Broncos will be thin in the secondary and you can imagine the Eagles will line up and use three- and four-wide receiver sets to attack Denver's depth in coverage.
Oh, the Eagles have a couple of players who are questionable, and it's going to go right down to when the inactives are announced before the Eagles know for sure if quarterback Michael Vick or safety/kickoff return man Quintin Demps will play. It isn't like the Eagles are 100 percent healthy, but at this point in the season the Eagles are in terrific shape.
And it could mean a great deal in this game. The Eagles maybe can pay that much more attention to Marshall with Royal out of the game. Maybe the coverage teams can take advantage of his absence in the return game. Maybe DeSean Jackson can have a big return with Larsen on the sidelines.
And maybe having Westbrook and Maclin back will give an offense that has been grooving even more punch.
This is the way of the league. Injuries happen. Depth charts change on the fly. Fortunately for the Eagles, the pieces are coming together at the right time.