Doug Pederson is ready to put Greg Ward, Boston Scott, and the rest of the Eagles’ young offensive players in a sink-or-swim situation Sunday in the biggest game of the season.
He has no choice.
With first place in the NFC East on the line against the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles’ coach knows wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson won’t be coming to the rescue. Running back Jordan Howard and receiver Nelson Agholor probably won’t be, either. They’re both listed as questionable for the 4:25 p.m. game at Lincoln Financial Field.
That leaves Pederson with a wide-receiver corps of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and practice-squad call-ups Greg Ward and Rob Davis. What’s more, Arcega-Whiteside was a limited participant in practice the last two days after hurting a foot Thursday, but the second-round pick out of Stanford is expected to play.
When Pederson was asked how he feels calling on a handful of guys who are still getting carded, the coach said there’s only one option.
“Throw them out there, man,” he said during a Friday news conference. “Honestly, throw them out there. It’s the only way. You can’t go back to Alshon or Nelly at this point, or any of those guys, [like] DeSean. You have to put them out there, right?”
The Eagles have stayed alive the last two weeks against the New York Giants and Washington with Ward and Scott stepping up in the pivotal points in the game.
Against the Giants on Dec. 9, Scott had 156 all-purpose yards and a rushing touchdown. The 5-foot-6 running back out of Louisiana Tech gave the Eagles a spark, helping them come from behind and win in overtime.
The following week, Ward was the only Eagles receiver to register a catch against Washington. He finished with seven catches for 61 yards and the game-winning touchdown at FedEx Field, less than a month after being promoted from the taxi squad.
He’s also won the favor of Mrs. Pederson.
“You’ve seen my [sons] around the team, and of course my wife is around the team a lot, especially when we’re on the road,” Pederson said. “She gets to know them. ... She has a lot of favorites, but I think [Ward’s] personality and the conversations they’ve had at the hotel or whatever, makes him one of her favorites.”
Pederson has made a point this week of praising Scott and Ward, who both are 24.
“They kind of grow up in a hurry,” Pederson said. “We’ve seen that with the young guys that have played. It’s good for them, and it’s good for us because we get to see who they are and what we have. But it’s a great opportunity for them at this point.”
Ward, a converted quarterback out of Houston, has 18 catches for 140 yards and one touchdown in five games this season. He has emerged as the team’s primary option at wide receiver with Agholor out, and Arcega-Whiteside still struggling to become a main target for Carson Wentz.
Agholor, who has been dealing with a knee injury he said dates back to Week 6 against Minnesota, has missed three of the last four games. Pederson said the team might have to consider putting him on injured reserve, thus ending his season.
“That’s a conversation we have to have here at the end," Pederson said. "But, again, he’s another one we’re hopeful and optimistic can push through and hopefully we get him back.”
The Eagles are playing for their season. A win puts them in position to win the division and make it to the playoffs. A loss would eliminate them from contention.
Ward said he isn’t looking at Sunday’s game any differently than he viewed the last two weeks’ division games against New York and Washington, both of which the Eagles needed to stay in control of their playoff hopes.
“It’s the same stakes,” Ward said. “It’s just the Cowboys. We all have the same mindset, though.”