The Eagles won’t need to worry about facing the Carolina Panthers’ newly acquired cornerback Stephon Gilmore this weekend. But there’s a slim chance they’ll be tasked with defending star running back Christian McCaffrey, who is working his way back from a hamstring injury that kept him out of last week’s game.
Earlier in the week, McCaffrey said he feels “great” and acknowledged there’s “definitely” a chance he’ll play in Week 5 against the Eagles. However, that tone was brought down several levels Friday afternoon, when the Panthers listed him as “doubtful” on the final injury report.
“He’s been going,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule told reporters. “It’s doubtful he’ll play on Sunday. That could change. I’m not going to play any games.”
The Eagles, who have given up a combined 83 points in two weeks, insist they’ll be prepared for the Panthers, whether or not McCaffrey is in the backfield. They have allowed the most rushing yards per game in the league, 150.3.
“He’s been really good in this league for a while,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said of McCaffrey. “I think one of the things that Christian’s really good at is he has great play strength, and he’s got great hands.”
McCaffrey, who missed 13 games last season with various injuries, suffered his latest hamstring issue in in a Thursday night game, Sept. 23 at Houston. The 25-year-old tailback missed the Panthers’ last game against the Dallas Cowboys, a 36-28 defeat that marked their first loss of the season. But McCaffrey returned to practice on a limited basis this week and seemed optimistic about facing the Eagles.
“You kind of just know how you feel,” McCaffrey said.
Speaking of the game in which he was injured, he said: “I don’t prefer Thursday night games. You go through a lot in a football game. You really get two days to recover [between Sunday’s game and Thursday’s], and one of those days is a travel day. It’s really tough. It is what it is. It’s part of the game.”
McCaffrey’s comments about his frustration with playing on a short week are particularly interesting considering the Eagles face a quick turnaround following Sunday’s game. The Eagles will host the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1), just four days later on Thursday evening at Lincoln Financial Field.
Lane Johnson ruled out
Right tackle Lane Johnson has been ruled out and will miss his second consecutive game. Johnson, a three-time Pro Bowler, has been dealing with a personal matter and didn’t practice all week.
Asked about the sensitivity in balancing personal and professional relationships, Sirianni provided a long and detailed response: “Connecting is our first thing. I’m here for our players, no matter what. They have to know that about me, that I’m here for them no matter what. It’s so important for me that we connect. There is no line for me. We’re here for our players, through the good times, through the bad times, whether it’s the situation Lane’s going through, or whether it’s Darius Slay, [whose wife] had a baby yesterday.
“I’ve said this before — your initial connection to players comes because the players know you can help get them better. In the grand scheme of things, that’s where the relationship starts. This guy can help me get better as a football player and help me reach the goals that I have as a football player. And then from there, you can grow so much with the relationship that you have with a coach and player, coach and coach, everything.
“When you have tight bonds, you can’t ever put a line on it, like, ‘I’m only willing to get this close with it.’ No. ...Love gets you to go do things that you didn’t think you could do and go further. There’s no line there. It’s just I want to be close with all our guys and want to get to know them personally, every one of the guys on our football team.”
Mailata set to return from knee injury
The Eagles’ other starting tackle, Jordan Mailata, is expected to return from a knee sprain that has sidelined him the past two games. With Mailata and Johnson both out last week, the Eagles slotted Andre Dillard at left tackle and Jack Driscoll at right tackle. Against the Panthers, it’s possible the Eagles keep Dillard at left tackle and insert Mailata at right tackle.
After beating out Dillard for the starting left tackle role, Mailata signed a four-year extension with $40.85 million guaranteed at the beginning of the season.
“I just saw a guy who was ready to play,” Sirianni said of Mailata’s practices this week. “I’m excited that he’s back and ready to roll. It’s really a tribute to him and the work that he’s put in. Excited [the training staff] was able to get a quick turnaround with something that could have been longer.”