By Week 2, the Eagles’ two prized offseason acquisitions suffered injuries that ended the season for one and essentially for the other. By Week 8, they would have 10 starters miss at least one game to injury. And when the Eagles take the field at the New York Giants on Sunday, they will likely have had two dozen players sidelined for a combined 168 games this season.
It would be impossible to tell the story of 2019 without mentioning Malik Jackson’s season-opening foot injury, or DeSean Jackson’s puzzling abdomen injury, or various injuries to key players like Lane Johnson, Derek Barnett, Jason Peters, and Jordan Howard, or to key positions like wide receiver and cornerback.
The Eagles have suffered their share of setbacks with tight end Zach Ertz’s rib fracture just the latest to potentially derail the season. But while the injuries may seem grotesque inside the Philadelphia bubble, the Eagles saw a decrease in number of games lost compared to 2018.
If projections for Sunday stand -- with Ertz, Johnson, and receiver Nelson Agholor out and other not-as-injured players active -- then the Eagles will have had a 31.5 percent decrease from last season when they had 28 players miss an NFL high of 221 games.
There are many variables that can factor into the overall number. Last season, for instance, the Eagles had several players miss time early because the 2017 Super Bowl-winning campaign extended into February. This season, tackle Jordan Mailata remains on injured reserve with a back injury even though he has long since recovered.
Injuries are as much a part of football as the goal posts. But the teams that either avoid the injury bug, for whatever the reason, or successfully navigate the repercussions are often the ones that play into the postseason.
Doug Pederson can’t avoid the subject. While the Eagles coach often jokes that he doesn’t own a stethoscope when asked by reporters for updates, you can bet that he knows the details of his players’ injuries. But the greater context of the Eagles’ injuries, and whether they have been snakebitten the last two years, wasn’t foremost on his mind Thursday.
“It is part of the game. It’s going to happen,” Pederson said. “You’re not going to go a whole football season without them. I wouldn’t consider it snakebit. Unfortunate maybe, but just part of the game.”
The Eagles endured a 43 percent increase in games lost to injury from 2017 -- 23 players missed a total of 126 games -- to 2018. Football Outsiders had them ranked last in the league based upon their calculations after they finished 13th the year before.
There isn’t a current database for this year’s figures in terms of games lost, but the Eagles, with 11, are below the NFL average (12.4) for players on injured reserve. Ten teams have fewer than them, the Vikings with the least (3), 19 teams have more, the Redskins with the most (19), and two other teams have as many.
Cornerback Ronald Darby joined wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, running back Darren Sproles, defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, running back Corey Clement, safety Rudy Ford, defensive end Joe Ostman, Mailata, and both Jacksons on IR this week.
The Jackson and Jeffery losses were obviously more costly than those of Ford and Ridgeway. While the Eagles surely would have preferred to not lose Howard or Agholor, their injuries increased playing time for running back Miles Sanders and receiver Greg Ward, both of whom have blossomed over the last month or so.
Pederson’s Eagles have been resilient if anything during his four seasons. Winning a title and reaching the playoffs without quarterback Carson Wentz and with backup Nick Foles the last two seasons is evidence enough.
But keeping Wentz healthy this season -- he will have played in all 16 games when he starts Sunday -- was paramount and the Eagles are seeing the benefit with him playing his best football of the season over the last three games.
The postseason runs also carried into the following seasons as players either held off surgery or were injured. After 2017, defensive end Brandon Graham, Barnett and Jeffery were among those affected. After 2018, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, linebacker Nigel Bradham and guard Brandon Brooks were affected, although each would return by this season’s opener.
“In our last couple years, we’ve played into February and then well into January, and it’s a lot of games and it’s a lot of wear and tear on bodies,” Pederson said last week. “These types of things are going to happen.”
The Eagles turned over their medical staff following the Super Bowl victory. They parted with their top two team doctors and their head athletic trainer and the changes seemed to play a role in the increase in injuries, and perhaps various abnormal recoveries.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman defended his medical staff after last season, but changes were again made this past offseason. Head physician Stephen Stache didn’t return after one year and Arsh Dhanota was hired as chief medical officer.
The Dhanota hire was seen internally as one that would centralize the Eagles’ medical staff and improve communications between the many departments. It’s unclear if the decrease in games lost to injury had anything to do with the alterations, but there haven’t appeared to be as many injuries of a dubious nature.
The Eagles remain tight-lipped on injuries, but in the cases of DeSean Jackson, Sproles (hip flexor) and Grugier-Hill (back), they released detailed descriptions of their season-ending injuries and how they occurred, for whatever the reason.
Grugier-Hill’s agent released a statement that said his client had been playing most of the season through injuries. The linebacker missed the first three games after he suffered a knee sprain in training camp. He also suffered a core muscle injury at some point, a source said.
But it was the concussion he played through -- Grugier-Hill later told reporters that he lied to the Eagles’ medical staff when he initially suffered the head injury -- that apparently led to a reduction in his playing time.
Nevertheless, Grugier-Hill’s injuries and shrouding of this season only go to show how little of the medical story is being told.
“The amount of contact and the amount of collisions and things that go on, not only during the week but also during the course of a game, are unbelievable,” Pederson said. “I know you [reporters] sit way up there and eat your hot dogs and diet Coke’s, but if you were on the field listening to the collisions and the things these guys go through, that's why I appreciate what every player does.
“Injury is part of it.”