The news was not good on the knee injury suffered by center Jamaal Jackson: He has a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is out for the season. Nick Cole stepped in for Jackson on Sunday against Denver and is expected to do so at Dallas, so it's scramble time again for an offensive line that has had its share of challenges this season.
"It's obviously a big loss," said head coach Andy Reid. "We're fortunate to have Nick here. He is a center who has been playing guard for us."
The offensive line was the No. 1 priority in the off-season when the Eagles went out and signed Stacy Andrews in free agency, traded for Jason Peters prior to the draft and moved Shawn Andrews from right guard to right tackle. You know how things have gone off course since that blueprint was designed, and still the Eagles have scored a franchise-high number of points for a single season.
Line coach Juan Castillo is one of the best in the league. He has a tough week ahead of him, working with Cole, establishing timing with quarterback Donovan McNabb and then integrating Max Jean-Gilles and maybe Stacy Andrews, who is in the mix, at right guard. Mike McGlynn is Cole's backup.
An offensive line that came together and started to build some continuity during the course of this six-game winning streak again has pieces to put together. Dallas and a very loud, hostile environment wait. The Cowboys are outstanding up front, led by nose tackle Jay Ratliff. This is where the game will be decided, no matter how much you want to focus on the star attractions who are touching the football.
What changes up front? Not a whole lot from a scheme standpoint, unless Castillo simplifies things this week. The Eagles have work to do in the silent count, and with their blocking schemes.
Fortunately, as head coach Andy Reid stressed in his Monday press conference, the Eagles have a lot of confidence in Cole and they have a player in Jean-Gilles who has started and played well in big games. Stacy Andrews has made progress with his technique and with the strength in his knee, and maybe he works in with Jean-Gilles.
It's just a shame that a warrior like Jackson, who rarely makes a mental mistake, can't be on the field for the biggest game of the season or for the playoffs. Jackson is an underrated player on this team and he has been the brains of the offensive line for years. Cole has big shoes to fill, and no matter how much confidence the Eagles have in him, they will have to bear down this week in practice and work through the rough patches.
The Eagles think that both quarterback Michael Vick and safety/kick returner Quintin Demps "have a chance" to return this week, but the primary focus is on the offensive line, once again.