Malik Jackson said the chance to play alongside Fletcher Cox was a big reason why he signed with the Eagles in free agency.
For this season, anyway, that chance might have lasted exactly 34 snaps, the number of plays the defensive tackle took part in during the Eagles’ season-opening victory over Washington, before Jackson left on a cart with what coach Doug Pederson on Monday called a “significant injury” that is “going to require some time.”
Pederson said that the team needed to see the results of tests before deciding on a roster move – meaning, before deciding whether to place Jackson on injured reserve, possibly ending his season. Jackson wore a walking boot on his left leg in the locker room after Sunday’s game. The team hasn’t specified his injury and it isn’t clear what happened, but a Lisfranc sprain or an Achilles tear are among the possibilities.
“I remember just doing a pass rush ... and I was on the ground the next [moment],” Jackson said Sunday. “I don’t know what I did. I just got up and it hurt more than it did the play before.”
The Eagles have a defensive tackle on their practice squad, Bruce Hector, who appeared in eight games last season. They could sign someone from another team’s practice squad – d-tackle is not a complicated position in Jim Schwartz’s system that will require a lot of study to master.
They also could decide to play a defensive end — Vinny Curry, certainly, and probably Brandon Graham — inside on obvious passing downs. In that case, the potential roster move could be for an additional defensive end; ex-Eagles Chris Long and Connor Barwin come to mind. Working against that possibility is the presence of defensive ends Shareef Miller and Daeshon Hall, who were inactive Sunday.
Asked about moving defensive ends inside, something the Eagles did a lot last year, with Jernigan injured, Pederson didn’t seem enthusiastic. One reason the Eagles signed Jackson was to get away from having to do that.
“It just taxes those guys a little bit more, having to move them around. That's something we're going to have to really think hard and look hard at these next couple of days before we move forward,” Pederson said.
Jackson’s roster spot is one thing, but more critically, there is his starting role, which isn’t going to be completely filled by a d-end moving inside.
Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, a hero of the Super Bowl season, played 25 snaps Sunday and managed the Eagles’ only sack of Washington quarterback Case Keenum. Hassan Ridgeway, acquired in the offseason from the Colts, played 24 snaps. Had the Eagles known Jackson was going to get hurt, they probably would have kept Treyvon Hester, who was claimed by the Redskins during cutdown weekend but did not play Sunday.
Jackson, 29, was the Eagles’ most heralded defensive free-agent signing, getting $30 million over three years, with $17 million guaranteed. The team had been looking forward to teaming him with Cox, to keep Cox from being double-teamed so much.
Last Wednesday was the first time Cox and Jackson were able to practice together, Cox having spent the preseason rehabbing the foot injury he suffered in the Eagles’ playoff loss at New Orleans.
“We can be real special,” Cox said after that practice.
That Josh Norman’s best play Sunday would be the dive he took, pretending to be held by rookie Eagles receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, negating what would have been the first NFL touchdown for rookie running back Miles Sanders?
The Eagles ended a five-game losing streak to Washington in the 2017 opener. Sunday’s game stretched the Eagles’ subsequent winning streak over the Redskins to five games.
The Eagles’ offense settled a lot of questions with its dominant second-half performance Sunday. The defense, not so much.
It’s true that the D didn’t allow a Washington first down in the third or fourth quarter, until the final minutes, after the Eagles had built a 32-20 lead. The Eagles knew coming in that the Redskins would want to run the ball, and they really shut that down, 13 carries for 28 yards, just three carries for minus-3 yards in the second half.
But matched against what is supposed to be one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines, minus disgruntled left tackle Trent Williams, where were the sacks? The Eagles got one, from Tim Jernigan.
Jim Schwartz emphasized being more opportunistic this offseason, after the Eagles created just 17 turnovers last year. There were no turnovers , though right in the middle of the home team’s horrific first-half struggles, a Case Keenum pass bounced off the chest of Ronald Darby, who’d jumped a Vernon Davis route.
Even after the line started getting decent pressure on Keenum in the second half, he had chances to make plays. The first Washington snap after the 53-yard DeSean Jackson touchdown that gave the Eagles their first lead of the day at 21-20, rookie wideout Terry McLaurin ran past Sidney Jones and was wide-open for what would have been a devastating 73-yard touchdown, had Keenum not overthrown him.
The Eagles offense is going to be what wins games. It was that way in Super Bowl LII and it is that way now, but giving up 27 points to an unimposing opponent sure puts a big load on the offense’s shoulders. The Eagles might find some opponents they can’t outscore.
One caveat might be that the defense had more starters sidelined through training camp and the preseason than was the case for the offense. As Brandon Graham pointed out afterward, “This was our first actual game action with everybody starting out there, and I mean, yeah, we didn’t start fast, but we finished stronger, and I loved that. I think we can always build off that.”