Can Philadelphia Eagles Survive Recent Rash of Injuries?

Andrew Kulp@@KulpSaysContributor ISeptember 22, 2014

Trainers work on Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce (62) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
Michael Perez/Associated Press

In coming back to defeat Washington 37-34 on Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles became the first team in NFL history to begin a season 3-0 after facing a 10-point deficit or greater in all three games. As if a 3-0 record wasn’t commendable on its own—achieved in such dramatic fashion no less—what’s really impressive is they’re doing it shorthanded.

In a league where games are frequently won or lost due to injuries, where a club’s championship hopes can disintegrate when one key player goes down, you have to wonder how long the Eagles can maintain such success at their current rate.

By the end of the first half of their Week 1 tilt with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia was already down left guard Evan Mathis and right tackle Allen Barbre. The following week against the Indianapolis Colts, the Birds lost interior linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Against Washington on Sunday, center Jason Kelce was the latest member of the offensive line to sustain an injury.

These are not bit players or minor bumps and bruises.

Mathis, an All-Pro, is on short-term injured reserve and won’t be eligible to return until Week 10. Barbre, a replacement himself for the suspended Lane Johnson, is done for the year.

While nothing is official with regard to Kendricks—arguably the defense’s most valuable player—Eliot Shorr-Parks for NJ.com reports the linebacker is up in the air for Week 4 at the San Francisco 49ers. And it’s too early to say for sure on Kelce, the keystone of an offensive line in poor repair, but the expedience with which his return was ruled out after exiting on Sunday doesn’t bode well.

Notable Eagles Injuries
OL Allen BarbreAnkleSeason
ILB Najee GoodePectoralSeason
C Jason KelceAbdominal???
ILB Mychal KendricksHeelWeek to Week
LB Travis LongACLSeason
LG Evan MathisMCLEligible to return Week 10
OL Matt TobinAnkleDay to Day

As if that weren’t enough, the Eagles are already missing reserves at these positions. Matt Tobin, a second-year lineman who could fill in at either guard or tackle, has been inactive since suffering an ankle injury in Philadelphia’s final exhibition game. Najee Goode, the top backup at interior linebacker, was knocked out in Week 1 and will miss the remainder of the year.

Funny how multiple injuries seem to pile up at one specific position or at a position where a team can least afford to take a hit.

In terms of overall health, this is a far cry from last season for the Eagles, when they possessed one of the healthiest rosters not just for 2013 but perhaps of all time. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was lost for the year to a torn ACL in training camp, and then nobody else of importance would go on IR the rest of the way.

Michael Perez/Associated Press

In fact, only two other offensive and defensive starters wound up missing more than two games all season. One was Michael Vick, who would be replaced permanently under center by Nick Foles anyway. The other was at safety, where the Eagles already had an underwhelming platoon of Patrick Chung and fifth-round rookie Earl Wolff to begin with.

All five starters along the offensive line played in all 16 games. Kendricks missed one game, while fellow starting interior linebacker DeMeco Ryans led all NFL defenders in snaps played.

Needless to say, Philadelphia’s good fortune across the board had a lot to do with the club’s ability to produce a 10-6 record and division championship.

So far this season, the Eagles have done an amazing job of surviving without so many important players, but the depth is being stretched increasingly thin.

Tobin practiced last week, signaling he could return in time for Week 4. Assuming Kelce is out, though, that means the line will still be made up of no fewer than three reserves in San Francisco—and it’s difficult to project how the unit would look.

Experience of Eagles Backup OL
Andrew GardnerT5th112
Dennis KellyG3rd1512
David MolkC2nd140
Matt TobinT/G2nd10

We know David Molk would make his first NFL start in place of Kelce at center. Dennis Kelly and Andrew Gardner have performed adequately at left guard and right tackle, respectively, but they aren’t making anybody forget about the guys they replaced.

Tobin is the wild card, as the second-year swingman was awarded the highest cumulative score of any lineman in the league this preseason by metrics site Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—though it would be his first NFL game, period.

Johnson is eligible to return from his suspension after one more game, so that should provide some clarity at right tackle at least.

The situation is so dire at interior linebacker, with duties falling to either Casey Matthews or Emmanuel Acho, the Eagles had to take extreme measures against Washington. First-round pick Marcus Smith, an outside linebacker by trade, practiced on the inside all week and played there in obvious passing downs.

Eagles Backup ILB Stats vs. WAS
Emmanuel Acho30000
Casey Matthews10000
Marcus Smith00000

Between the three of them, Matthews, Acho and Smith combined to record four tackles, zero sacks, zero forced fumbles, zero pass breakups and zero interceptions. In other words, they had almost zero measureable impact on the game.

Philadelphia was fortunate to escape Washington without further harm done—not to mention with a win. Foles took one big shot after another behind his patchwork O-line, prompting backup signal-caller Mark Sanchez to take warm-up tosses for the second time this season. All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy also departed briefly to get examined for a concussion, but he did return.

Foles and McCoy ultimately stayed in the game, but those were some scary moments. The next injury, to whomever it may be, could be the breaking point for the Eagles.