Greg Ward Jr. hasn’t been targeted much by Jalen Hurts this season.
But when the Eagles’ quarterback-wide receiver duo has connected, Ward has been quite effective as a scorer. Of his six catches, three have been receiving touchdowns.
Which begs the question: Why don’t the Eagles play Ward more?
“Greg is the ultimate pro,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “He’s a tremendous leader in that room, without a doubt. Those guys look up to him. When his number is called, he has been making plays.”
Ward, 26, might be the the last player on the wide receiver depth chart with 312 total snaps — behind rookie DeVonta Smith (904 snaps), Jalen Reagor (776), Quez Watkins (766), and JJ Arcega-Whiteside (353) — but Ward has served as a valuable chess piece for Hurts and first-year coach Nick Sirianni.
His most recent contribution occurred in a clutch moment during a 20-16 victory over Washington on Sunday. Facing third-and-14 in the third quarter, Hurts couldn’t hear Steichen’s play call over the headset. With the play clock winding down, Hurts, in his own words, “pulled one out of his hat.”
On the play, Hurts dialed his own numbers. He evaded pressure, escaped the pocket and made one of the most impressive throws of his young career, zipping a low pass downfield to Ward, who broke off from his route.
“There’s no limits to where he can go,” Ward said of Hurts.
While falling down, Ward secured the 27-yard reception. Four plays later, the Eagles trimmed Washington’s lead to one possession as Boston Scott found the end zone on a rushing touchdown. It was the Hurts-Ward connection, though, that ended up being one of the most memorable moments from the victory.
“I’m just going to stay ready for when my name is called,” Ward said. “That’s all I’m focused on.
“I stay ready by staying on my routine, staying on my body. Doing all the little things. Staying after practice and sharpening my tools. Of course I want to be out there more, but I’m just going to stay ready.”
It’s possible Ward receives extra snaps in the upcoming regular-season finale, scheduled at 8:15 p.m. Saturday against the Cowboys.
Sirianni remained noncommittal when asked Thursday whether he plans to rest his starters. The Eagles have already clinched a playoff spot and won’t be playing for much, although it’s possible they move from the No. 7 to No. 6 seed based on the outcome of the 49ers-Rams game.
Earlier in the week, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said he plans to play his starters, but he didn’t reveal exactly how many possessions they might play Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
Both NFC East teams are dealing with COVID-19 issues. As of Thursday evening, the Cowboys had nine players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and the Eagles had 12, including running backs Scott and Jordan Howard, tight ends Dallas Goedert and Jack Stoll, center Jason Kelce, guard Nate Herbig, defensive lineman Fletcher Cox, linebackers Genard Avery and Alex Singleton, safeties Marcus Epps and Rodney McLeod and cornerback Avonte Maddox.
On the final injury report released Thursday night, running back Miles Sanders (broken hand) was the only player ruled as out vs. the Cowboys. Rookie offensive lineman Landon Dickerson (thumb) and right tackle Lane Johnson (rest/knee) were listed as questionable.
“That’s still something that we’re discussing and we’re working through,” Sirianni said. “Everybody is ready to go. Even the guys that are out of the building right now [due to COVID-19] are ready to go because of the preparation that we’ve had by everybody throughout the week.
“That’s still something we’re sorting through. Every situation will be looked at differently. We are very aware that we don’t control our own destiny, as far as the No. 6 or 7 seed. Everybody is being treated as a different scenario. ... But our goal is to win this football game against a rival.”
If the Eagles decide to rest some of their top play-makers, such as Hurts and Smith, who needs just 38 receiving yards to break DeSean Jackson’s franchise record for most receiving yards by a rookie, that could open up more opportunities for the reserves.
“You always want to compete and win,” Ward said. “It’s important we go out and play [vs. Cowboys].”
Across the league, there’s been mixed reactions regarding playing time ahead of Week 18. Already possessing an automatic bye as the NFC’s top seed, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has been hobbled with a broken toe, said he intends to play in a meaningless game against the Lions. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has taken the opposite approach and will rest along with a handful of other starters in their game against the Browns.
“This game still matters because it’s the next game,” Ward said. “It’s the Cowboys — this is the biggest rivalry in football. We’re going to play to the best of our ability and try to come out with a win.”