The Eagles typically treat the specifics of injuries with the same level of secrecy as Jeffrey Lurie’s bank account numbers.
Consequently, we don’t know exactly what happened to Fletcher Cox’s foot last January in that playoff loss to the Saints in the Superdome.
We know he injured it pretty badly. We know it required surgery. And we know he didn’t participate in any team drills in the spring or at training camp, didn’t play in the preseason, and didn’t start fully practicing with the team until 2½ weeks ago.
Given all of that, it’s not surprising that the team has had him on a pitch count in the first two games.
Cox played just 66% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps in their Week 1 win over Washington, and 74% in the loss to Atlanta. That’s a far cry from his 86.7 snap percentage in the first two games last season.
In a perfect midnight green world, the Eagles would continue to bring Cox along slowly, and let his foot get stronger, and allow his conditioning to return to where it was a year ago, when he played 80% of the snaps and notched a career-high 10½ sacks on the way to his initial first-team All-Pro selection.
But it isn’t a perfect world. It’s an imperfect one in which the Eagles’ Super Bowl hopes are being sabotaged by foot injuries.
Call it the Curse of Dr. Scholl.
The two people who were supposed to rotate with Cox inside and give the Eagles the most feared interior pass rush in the NFL this season — Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan — both are out with foot injuries. Jackson likely is lost for the season. Jernigan is expected to be out at least a month, which probably means two.
Besides Cox, the only two healthy defensive tackles right now are Hassan Ridgeway and Akeem Spence. Both are decent run-defenders, but neither is a pass-rushing threat. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz likely will start bumping defensive ends Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham inside in some nickel situations like he’s done in the past.
“You just have to believe and trust in the guys that we got,” Cox said. “It’s not like we just brought Hassan in off the street. He’s been here for spring ball, for training camp. He understands the defense. I’m excited for him.”
What the Eagles need most right now is for Cox to be Superman again, like he was a year ago, when he was the defense’s follow-me leader and one of the league’s two best interior linemen.
The thing is, we don’t know if that’s possible right now. He played pretty well in the Washington game. He didn’t have a sack, but he had two hits on quarterback Case Keenum to go with four hurries.
Against the Falcons last Sunday, however, he was Clark Kent. He had just one hit and one hurry to go with one tackle as the Falcons kept him at bay, often with just one blocker.
In his first two games last season, Cox had 2⅓ sacks and 13 total quarterback pressures.
Cox said he slowly but surely is getting back to where he needs to be physically and conditioning-wise.
“I was talking to Coach [Phillip] Daniels and told him I’m feeling pretty good,” Cox said, referring to the Eagles’ defensive line coach. "I actually feel I’m where I should be right now. I’ll see Sunday where I am, but I feel pretty good.
"I’ve had a couple of games under my belt," Cox said. "I didn’t have a preseason. I wasn’t worried about it. I still am not worried about it. But I got my legs back under me. I could feel it coming in the second half last week. I feel a lot better this week and I’m ready to roll."
We’ll find out Sunday whether Schwartz ramps up Cox’s playing time.
"Maybe my play time will go up a little bit, maybe not," Cox said. "We’ll see. I don’t control those types of things. I just do what the coaches ask me to do and do it to the best of my ability."
The Eagles have just two quarterback sacks in the first two games compared with five last year. Quarterback hits also are down (from 14 to 12). The number of hurries are up (from 30 to 23), but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
“It’s going to happen,” Cox said. “Trust me. There’s no panic in the D-line room about getting sacks. We hit the quarterback a lot the last two weeks. The sacks will come. We just have to be patient and not force it, and we’ll get there.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz gave an odd answer this week when I asked him how close Cox was to being the player he was before his foot injury.
"He didn’t practice a ton in training camp, but there’s nobody grading on a curve this time of year because you didn’t practice in training camp," Schwartz said.
"Like when they put a ball in the air, the officials don’t say, ‘Well, this guy’s coming back from an injury,’ or, when it comes time to rush the passer, they don’t say, ‘Well, we’re going to pull a guy out because of that.’
"Nobody cares about that stuff. It’s a production league. It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. He’ll get there."
Defensive end Brandon Graham knows what it’s like to come back from a major injury. He had ankle surgery after the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory two years ago. He has acknowledged that he wasn’t really anywhere close to 100% until midseason last year.
"Fletch has been working hard," Graham said. "It’s only going to keep getting better for him each game. I know sometimes you’re a little rusty in the beginning when you’re coming back from injury. I went through that last year."
Doug Pederson didn’t do Carson Wentz any favors last Sunday by throwing the ball 48 times. Wentz, whose season was cut short last year by a broken bone in his back, and the year before that by a torn ACL, took a beating in the loss to the Falcons.
He was sacked three times and hit seven other times, most of them pretty good licks. At one point late in the second quarter, the on-site neurologist at Mercedes-Benz Stadium pulled Wentz from the game to examine him for a possible concussion.
Wentz’s offensive line didn’t give him very good protection. But Wentz, who was working with receivers he hadn’t thrown to a lot because of injuries to Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson, also held on to the ball too long several times.
The Eagles ran the ball just 21 times for 49 yards against the Falcons, and three of those carries were by Wentz.
"I just don’t think it’s a good idea to ask Carson to drop back nearly 50 times, it just isn’t," NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said.
"If you took a freeze-frame of Carson, if you looked at him at the end of some of those [pass] plays Sunday, forget his injury history. If you were Tom Brady or Eli Manning you wouldn’t survive 16 games getting hit like that. That hit he took on fourth-and-14 [on the 43-yard completion to Nelson Agholor late in the game], I mean four guys hit him at the same time and buried him.
“That hit Vic Beasley put on him [late in the second quarter, which precipitated the concussion check], he decked him. It’s hard to deck a 240-pound quarterback like that. But I saw his head bounce off the turf. He’s just not going to survive 16 games throwing it that much.”
Baldinger said Wentz needs to focus on getting the ball out quicker. He pointed to Josh McCown’s brief appearance when Wentz was out of the game. And no, he’s not suggesting Wentz should be benched in favor of the 40-year-old McCown.
McCown completed 3 of 5 passes for 24 yards and moved the Eagles from the Atlanta 41 to the 13 before Wentz returned.
"You watch Josh come in and it’s completion, completion, completion," Baldinger said. "He got rid of the ball so much faster. Like right away. This is a guy who’s been there three weeks.
"He knows what the deal is. Get the ball out of your hands. Especially when you have guys on the other side of the line just teeing it up over there."
Baldinger thinks McCown could be an ideal mentor for Wentz.
"I think Josh can really help Carson," he said. "I know Carson can be really stubborn. But Josh McCown has helped every single quarterback he’s been the backup to in some way. He’s a great resource.
"I know Josh will make suggestions. I hope Carson listens to him. Because he’s not going to survive 16 games the way he played the game the other night."