clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How Carson Wentz and an injured-depleted roster powered the Eagles to the playoffs

Despite playing with some no-name guys, Philadelphia has a chance at a postseason run.

Philadelphia Eagles v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Update: Carson Wentz left the game against the Seahawks in the first quarter after taking a big hit from Jadeveon Clowney. He is being evaluated for a concussion, and is currently questionable to return.

The Philadelphia Eagles are in the playoffs for the third consecutive year. Even though they were just 5-7 a month ago, the Eagles won four straight games to finish 9-7 and take the NFC East. But what’s most impressive is how they made the postseason despite so many injuries to key players.

In 2019 alone, 13 players landed on the injured reserve list. Even worse for quarterback Carson Wentz is the number of weapons he’s been missing.

The Eagles have lost their top three wide receivers (DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, and Alshon Jeffery), and have had to deal with injuries to their top tight end (Zach Ertz) and four running backs. Corey Clement and Darren Sproles are on injured reserve, and primary backs Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard have been banged up too.

Philadelphia is hosting the Seahawks in the Wild Card Round on Sunday, a game in which Las Vegas has the home team as a 2-point underdog. Here’s a look at the current injury report ahead of that game, as of Friday afternoon:

Eagles’ current injury report

Player Pos Status
Player Pos Status
Fletcher Cox DT Full
Nelson Agholor WR DNP
Derek Barnett DE Full
Zach Ertz TE Limited
Lane Johnson OT DNP
Sidney Jones CB Full
Avonte Maddox CB Full
Jalen Mills CB Full
Miles Sanders RB Full
Brandon Brooks G Reserve/Injured
Corey Clement RB Reserve/Injured
Ronald Darby CB Reserve/Injured
Rudy Ford S Reserve/Injured
Kamu Grugier-Hill OLB Reserve/Injured
Daeshon Hall DE Reserve/Injured
DeSean Jackson WR Reserve/Injured
Malik Jackson DT Reserve/Injured
Alshon Jeffery WR Reserve/Injured
Jordan Mailata T Reserve/Injured
Joe Ostman DE Reserve/Injured
Hassan Ridgeway DT Reserve/Injured
Darren Sproles RB Reserve/Injured
Pro Football Reference

Six of these players who are officially out — DeSean Jackson, Malik Jackson, Brooks, Agholor, Jeffery, and Darby — were all Week 1 starters. So how did the Eagles make it this far, and can they keep it up?

Carson Wentz had to get production out of only the weapons he has at his disposal

Wentz started off the season slow, before he took his play up a notch in the last four weeks of the season. Let’s take a look at his numbers.

  • Weeks 1-13: 236.7 yards per game, 20 TDs, 7 INTs, 90 passer rating, 6.5 Y/A
  • Weeks 14-17: 299.8 yards per game, 7 TDs, 0 INTs, 100.8 passer rating, 6.9 Y/A

By Week 13, the Eagles were 5-7 and coming off a 37-31 loss to Miami. Then Wentz sparked the team to those last four wins and a spot in the playoffs.

Granted, Philadelphia played all divisional matchups to end the season and no other NFC East team had a winning record. Still, Wentz putting up these numbers despite the injuries around him is encouraging:

Wentz had one of the worst outings of his season when he played the Seahawks in Week 12, finishing with one touchdown, two interceptions, and two lost fumbles. Heading into the rematch in the playoffs, though, he looks much like his former MVP candidate self.

The wide receiver corps has taken the biggest hit, but has gotten help from unexpected places

Wentz began the season with Jackson, Jeffery, Agholor, and Ertz as his main targets. Only Ertz, who was cleared to play the day before the Eagles’ wild card game, is left (though Jackson could come off IR if the Eagles advance). Ertz missed a must-win Week 17 game against the Giants due to a cracked rib and lacerated kidney. He’s the Eagles’ leading receiver by 309 yards.

As a result, some guys that NFL fans may not have even heard of have been pressed into duty late in the season.

Take, for instance, Greg Ward Jr. Ward played quarterback at Houston from 2013-16. He was signed as an undrafted free agent with the Eagles in 2017, and he had various stints with Philly’s practice squad, as well as in the AAF. After starting 2019 on the Eagles’ practice squad, he was promoted to the active roster for a game in Week 3, then again in late November.

Ward has become a reliable slot receiver for the Eagles, and since he was called up, he’s caught 28 passes on 40 targets for 254 yards and a touchdown. His lone score gave the Eagles a Week 15 victory over Washington with 26 seconds left:

Tight end Dallas Goedert has stepped up recently, with 13 catches for 156 yards and a touchdown in the last two games. Rookie receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside has been limited by a foot injury, but he still had two catches for 39 yards in a pivotal win against the Cowboys.

Receivers Deontay Burnett and Robert Davis were also promoted from the practice squad in December and combined for 54 yards over the last two weeks. Tight end Joshua Perkins, brought up at the end of November, had 50 yards and a touchdown against the Giants. These three guys have just seven career starts between their careers.

Against Seattle, the Eagles will have four active receivers who were all practice squad call-ups, to put how depleted the position has been into perspective.

It’s been a similar story for the running backs

This was the Eagles’ running back depth chart at the start of the year: Howard, Sanders, Sproles, Clement.

Howard suffered a shoulder injury in Week 9 against the Bears that caused him to miss the next six games. He was cleared to return in Week 17, but saw just one snap. Clement played in just four games before going on IR with a shoulder injury, and Sproles was lost for the season in Week 10 due to a hip flexor injury.

As such, the Eagles have had to lean on Sanders and Boston Scott late in the season. Sanders emerged as a valuable piece of the offense, totaling 818 rushing yards and 509 receiving yards. The rookie left the Week 17 game against the Giants early after suffering an ankle injury.

That left Scott to shoulder the load, and he did just that. Scott had 54 rushing yards, 84 receiving yards, and scored three touchdowns (the latter two of which were career highs) in the playoff-clinching win. Scott was a 2018 sixth-round pick of the Saints, and he spent time on the Saints’ and Eagles’ practice squads before being promoted on Oct. 11 this season.

Heading into the Wild Card Round, Miles says he is ready to go and Howard is also expected to play. If either is hampered, the Eagles might have to rely on Scott again this week.

The offensive line is banged up, too

Early in the season my colleague Geoff Schwartz ranked the Eagles’ offensive line, which includes three-time All-Pro center Jason Kelce and two-time All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters, as one of the best in the league. Since then, the rest of the line has dealt with some injuries.

Starting right tackle Lane Johnson has missed four games since mid-November. Johnson’s absence has been a problem for Wentz in the past. According to ESPN, the Eagles’ quarterback is 26-14 in games in which Johnson plays and 6-10 when he’s out.

During Philly’s Week 12 loss to the Seahawks, it had to play without Johnson, and Wentz had three fumbles and was sacked three times. Johnson will reportedly sit out this week’s game against Seattle due to an ankle injury.

Starting right guard Brandon Brooks was also sent to the IR this past week with a shoulder injury that he got during an extra point attempt. Backup Matt Pryor, who’s played in just 79 offensive snaps in his career, will get his first ever start while Halapoulivaati Vaitai fills in for Johnson. That’s not great news for a line that next has to go up against Seattle pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Ezekiel Anash.

The defense hasn’t escaped the injuries woes, either

The biggest injury problem on defense has been in the secondary. By Week 9, the Eagles played 23 games in a row with at least one starter in the secondary missing, and the team had started 16 different defensive backs during that time. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the Eagles’ defense ranks 21st in passing touchdowns allowed (27) and 24th in passing yards per completion.

Cornerbacks Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, Ronald Darby, and Jalen Mills have all been hurt this year. Darby was placed on the IR after Week 16, though Jones, Maddox, and Mills all should be good to go against the Seahawks.

Along the defensive line, the concerns this week center around Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett. Both are expected to play, but Cox is dealing with a tricep injury and Barnett with an ankle injury. Containing Russell Wilson is hard to do without a consistent (or healthy) pass rush. Barnett is second on the team in sacks, and the veteran Cox has made big plays when he’s needed to late in the season.

The Eagles are only allowing 90 rush yards per game, good for third in the league. It’ll be interesting to see what that run defense, even if it’s not 100 percent, can do against the Seahawks, who have rookie Travis Homer and recently unretired Marshawn Lynch at running back after their own injuries.

The 2017 Eagles team that won the Super Bowl also had a slew of injuries

Two years ago, the Eagles brought home the Lombardi Trophy even though they were without their starting quarterback (Wentz), left tackle (Peters), middle linebacker (Jordan Hicks), and a key playmaker (Sproles).

This year doesn’t quite compare because the Eagles have a lot more major injuries coming into the playoffs, but one thing is the same: they keep winning, and aren’t letting the injuries be an excuse.

When they need guys to step up, they have. In a Week 17 game that they needed to win to make the playoffs, they got big-time contributions from lesser-known names like Scott, Perkins, Ward, Burnett, and Davis. Those guys were all cut by seven different NFL teams a combined 18 times in their careers.

It’s hard to win a lot of games when your roster gets bitten by the injury bug. But the Eagles deserve credit for overcoming adversity and making it this far. We’ll see if they can continue to do so against Seattle on Sunday.