Dallas Goedert is the 256-pound piece of straw that broke the camel’s back.
His ankle injury Sunday on the Eagles' second possession of their coyote-ugly 23-23 tie with the Cincinnati Bengals was finally one injury too many for this snake-bitten team.
Without the versatile tight end, the Eagles' offense struggled to function against the Bengals. His early departure impacted both the run and pass game.
“Losing a guy like Dallas, he has a huge role in protections and the run game,” quarterback Carson Wentz said after the game. "And he’s a playmaker with the ball in his hands and down the field.
“He’s a big part of our game plan every week. Losing him, we obviously had to make some adjustments on the fly today. It makes it tough.”
Six of their first 10 plays Sunday were run with 12-personnel, featuring Goedert and Zach Ertz. But after Goedert went down, they used 12-personnel just 18 more times the rest of the game.
When they did use it, Richard Rodgers served as the second tight end. But Rodgers isn’t the dynamic run-blocker or pass-catcher that Goedert, who came into the game as the Eagles' leading receiver with 12 catches, is.
Making matters worse, 33-year-old wide receiver DeSean Jackson injured his hamstring in the second quarter and didn’t play in the second half.
“Losing D-Jack at halftime made it tough as well,” said Wentz, who had another awful day, throwing two more interceptions and averaging just 4.8 yards per attempt. “It’s definitely challenging to have that happen in the middle of a game. We had plays designed (for Goedert and Jackson), but we got new guys out there. So we have to find a way to get guys in the right spot.”
Ertz is a prolific receiver, as he proved two years ago when he caught 116 passes, the most ever by an NFL tight end. But he’s not the yards-after-the-catch threat that Goedert is, and, more significantly, he’s not the blocker that Goedert is.
Given the fact that the Eagles went into Sunday’s game missing three offensive line starters, and given the fact that 38-year-old left tackle Jason Peters appears to be playing on fumes, Goedert’s blocking ability had become even more valuable.
Running back Miles Sanders, who rushed for 95 yards on 20 carries last week against the Rams in his first game back from a hamstring injury, rushed for 64 yards on eight carries in the first half Sunday, including back-to-back 11- and 14-yard runs on the Eagles' first possession before Goedert got hurt.
In the second half, with Goedert out and with the Eagles playing primarily three-wide receiver 11-personnel, Sanders was held to 31 yards on 10 carries.
“It is hard when you have some moving pieces and you have different guys in there,” coach Doug Pederson said. "But hey, listen, we’re not going to make excuses for anything. We’ve got to continue to work. We’ve got to continue to practice and get better and sort these things out.
“When the injuries started to pile up today, they just got us out of our game plan rhythm. It was tough today to find a sync, to find a rhythm. I’ve got to give credit to the Bengals for mixing up some coverages, some fronts, on us.”
It’s unclear how long Goedert will be out. High-ankle sprains can be a 4-to-6 week injury. But the Eagles didn’t yet know the severity of his injury after the game. There’s the possibility it’s just a mild sprain and he’ll return sooner.
It doesn’t help that Wentz is struggling as badly as he is. He already has thrown six interceptions in the first three games, which is just one fewer than he had the entire season last year. He has an atrocious 63.8 passer rating and a 59.8 completion percentage. On Sunday, simple tosses to Sanders seemed a major challenge.
Without Jackson, the Eagles' three wide receivers in their 11-personnel packages in the second half were Greg Ward, rookie John Hightower and Deontay Burnett, who was brought up from the practice squad for the Bengals game.
The 28-year-old Rodgers has been hurt much of the previous two seasons. He played in just one game last year and seven in 2018. He had a career-high 58 catches and eight touchdowns with the Packers back in 2015.
Sanders took offense after the game to the suggestion that losing Goedert crippled the offense Sunday.
“I don’t think it was a big loss,” the second-year running back insisted. “We have the next-man-up mentality here. I don’t think it was a loss. We have Rich. He stepped in and did a helluva job too.”
Rodgers had two catches for 15 yards Sunday.
It was a big loss, which Sanders knew, but didn’t want to admit.
Even though the Eagles went to predominantly 11-personnel after Goedert got hurt, Sanders also claimed that Goedert’s absence didn’t force the offense to change anything.
“I actually don’t think we had to do anything different,” he said. “We still had a chance to win the game and that’s all that really matters. No matter who’s in there, everybody’s got to do their job. It’s as simple as that.”
Asked about Wentz’s 29-for-47, one-touchdown, two-interception day, Sanders said, "I saw big-boy football from 11. You never want to turn the ball over.
“But I had a mistake last week too (a first-quarter fumble against the Rams that set up a touchdown). But it’s all about how you go about the game, the rest of the game. I thought he fought his ass off the rest of the game and gave us a chance to get a W.”