Nobody is mentioning injuries as an excuse. It's something you just don't do in the NFL because every team has them and it's the responsibility of those who put a roster together to prepare for the long and physically taxing toll of the regular season. There comes a time, though, when you just say, "What the …?"
Now is one of those times.
As the Eagles prepare for Sunday's big, big game against Seattle, they're again staring an at injury situation that’s just, well, mind-boggling. They're already without wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who really played only one game this season before an abdominal injury turned his dream sequence into a nightmare. They haven't had wide receiver Alshon Jeffery since late in the Chicago game and he's been a limited participant all week with an ankle injury. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor is battling a knee injury and hasn't practiced all week. Both players are listed as questionable on the official Status Report.
Running back Jordan Howard has some kind of stinger suffered in the fourth quarter of the win over Chicago that hasn't yet healed and Howard isn't cleared for full contact, and since there _is_ full contact in the NFL, Howard can't play until the doctors say he can play. Darren Sproles is on season-ending Injured Reserve, and the Eagles added Jay Ajayi, who has spent a whole week practicing and is in line to get some reps on Sunday should Howard, who is listed as questionable, not play.
Oh, and this: All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson, a dominating player, remains in concussion protocol. That's not good news. He's out. Left tackle Jason Peters, already in and out of the lineup this season, has been limited this week with a knee injury.
Before we dive a little deeper into Sunday and the implications of this NFC game, a moment to think about what was with this roster: The team the Eagles put together in the spring and summer looked complete. The offense was loaded and versatile and deep and, boy, it's hard not to think of what could have been. I know that's not the way the team thinks, but I'm stepping out here for a moment as a fan: A healthy Eagles roster, even relatively healthy, would have produced a dynamic and high-scoring offense. Woulda, coulda, shoulda …
We see what a reasonably healthy defense can be. Since the Eagles became healthier in the secondary with the return of Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, and Avonte Maddox, they've been outstanding: Since Week 8 of this season, the Eagles lead the NFL in both total yards allowed per game (238.3 yards) and yards allowed per play (4.18). The Eagles have held opponents to fewer than 300 total net yards and 17 or fewer points in three straight games. Admittedly, those opponents were Buffalo, Chicago, and New England – not exactly a trio of high-scoring offenses – and a real test comes to town on Sunday, but it's impossible not to notice the improvement.
For the offense, though, it's been a season of stopping and starting, starting and stopping. The injuries have directly impacted the vertical passing game – Carson Wentz has 31 passing plays of 20-plus yards this season, ranking 19th in the NFL. The NFL leader in that category is Dallas' Dak Prescott, who has 47 completions of 20-plus yards. That 16-play difference in the span of 10 games is huge. And telling.
So, enough of the what-could-have-been whining. Hard, cold reality is staring the Eagles in the face in the form of an 8-2 Seattle team coming in off its bye week. This is an excellent football team the Eagles are playing, and a valid question to ask is this: How are the Eagles going to score points?
"We have to play at a very high level. We know that," guard Brandon Brooks said. "We know what kind of team they have and we know what this game means."
That's what it will come down to, ultimately. The Eagles need to have a great game plan in place and they need to make the right in-game adjustments and they have to take advantage of good matchups when they present themselves. That's really how the Eagles are going to win. They need to establish the line of scrimmage and run the ball effectively and throw the ball a whole lot better than they've thrown it for much of this season.
I don't have any magical answers. This moment feels a lot like Week 15 of last season when a 6-7 Eagles team went out to Los Angeles to play the powerful Rams and pulled off a stunning upset, the first of three straight victories to end the regular season. The Eagles had some help when Chicago defeated Minnesota in Week 17 and, voila, the Eagles reached the postseason.
This feels like a crossroads moment in a season that hasn't gone the way any of us thought it would. A win on Sunday puts the Eagles at 6-5 with a much more favorable schedule. Dallas is the only team in the final five games with a winning record. The alternative isn't pleasant to discuss.
Now isn't the time to think about what could have been and nobody in the NovaCare Complex is thinking that way (except for me at this moment, I guess). It's all about beating Seattle. This will require the best performance of the season, and a win could catapult the Eagles to a stirring final stretch run in December.
This much is certain: The Eagles' offense, particularly, has been tested like never before – taking into consideration the injury-riddled seasons of 2017 and 2018 – and the group together is going to have to rise up and play well to beat Seattle. Injuries aren't an excuse, but they sure have had a significant impact on an Eagles' season that was never supposed to be so up and down and up and down in 2019.