With Dallas ahead and the second half of the season ready to begin for the Eagles, I’ve got some quick thoughts on the state of this 4-4 team moving forward …
- A big kudos to right tackle Lane Johnson, who is, according to head coach Doug Pederson, expected to practice on a limited basis this week and play on Sunday night, just two weeks after suffering a knee injury in London against Jacksonville. Early reports indicated a Grade 2 sprain of his medial collateral ligament and one report said that Johnson “will miss several weeks” with the injury. Those early reports, clearly, don’t look accurate. If Johnson can play Sunday, wow. What a show of toughness for Johnson and great work by the team’s athletic training staff to rehab Johnson so diligently.
- Running back/return man Darren Sproles is on track to return to the playing field for the first time since the Week 1 win over Atlanta, although the Eagles aren’t rushing Sproles. They want him all the way back from his hamstring injury and they want him for the remainder of the season. Sproles, of course, would provide a jolt in the punt return game and as a versatile piece in the offense as a running back and a receiver.
- Pederson indicated on Wednesday that cornerback Jalen Mills (foot injury) might not be ready to go against Dallas and that Sidney Jones (hamstring) is “day to day,” which means he is a question mark for the Cowboys. Rasul Douglas is in line for some extended playing time, as is new cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc. At this point, unless the Eagles move some pieces around in the defensive backfield, LeBlanc would be the nickel cornerback, where he is suited to play. The scouting report on LeBlanc here is that he’s “tough with quickness.” The Eagles gave Dexter McDougle his shot and he played hard and he played a lot, but McDougle was on the ground too much, particularly against Jacksonville. The pieces aren’t all in place for the Eagles in the secondary, so they might have to work the secondary possession to possession against Dallas.
- Why did the Eagles add defensive tackle T.Y. McGill when they have Tim Jernigan working his way back to the lineup? First of all, Jernigan is a few weeks away. Second, the Eagles wanted to add McGill a couple of weeks ago, but he failed the team’s physical. McGill doesn’t have prototype size at 6-0, 299 pounds, but he’s described as “really twitchy” and in that way resembles Jernigan’s game. The Eagles are looking for those kinds of defensive tackles to create some havoc up front. Here is the depth chart at defensive tackle, keeping in mind that the Eagles can put Michael Bennett and Brandon Graham inside in pass-rushing situations: Fletcher Cox, Haloti Ngata, Treyvon Hester, and McGill. What a difference a year makes …
- Did you know that Cameron Johnston leads the NFL in gross punting average at 49.9 yards per kick? He’s come a long way from the spring and summer, when inconsistency marked his practice performances. “He’s really worked hard at improving his technique, and that’s what it’s all about when you have talent,” special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said of Johnston. “He clearly has talent. Cam knew he had to grow from how he kicked here at NovaCare. I’m proud of the work he’s done. He has room to improve, but he’s done a good job.”
- One of the encouraging stories from the first half of the season was the return to the lineup of middle linebacker Jordan Hicks. He played in 100 percent of the defensive snaps in eight games and recorded 67 total tackles, three quarterback sacks, three passes defensed, and one fumble recovery. “There’s no question we’re a better defense with Jordan on field,” linebackers coach Ken Flajole said. “It’s amazing the way he’s come back. Jordan wants to be out there for every snap, whether it’s practice or the game. He dedicated himself to his rehab. I think he looks great out there. There was some rust in the preseason, but once the regular season began he was out there looking like Jordan Hicks.”
- The Eagles-Cowboys series began in 1960 and Dallas leads, 66-52 in games won. Dallas is also 9-6 at Lincoln Financial Field, so even with Dallas struggling at 3-5 and with some injury concerns – linebacker Sean Lee (hamstring), offensive guard Connor Williams (surgical procedure) questionable for Sunday night, you can expect a desperate Cowboys team on Sunday night. Nothing is going to come easily for the Eagles this season. Make sure to let that sink in. This year is not last year. This year is a weekly struggle for the Eagles.