LANDOVER, Md. — The Eagles' annual war of attrition started earlier than usual this season.
They entered FedEx Field for their season opener against the Washington Football Team on Sunday already missing six presumptive starters. By the end of their 27-17 loss, they were without three more.
The Eagles have spent the better part of three seasons as a team defined by overcoming injuries. Their Super Bowl LII run in 2017 was led by backup quarterback Nick Foles, who also led the team to the playoffs in 2018. Last year was underscored by Carson Wentz’s ability to gel with practice-squad receivers en route to a playoff berth.
For the start of coach Doug Pederson’s fifth season, he effect of the injury bug was apparent before the first snap. The offensive line is without Brandon Brooks and Andre Dillard for the season, barring a miraculous comeback from Brooks after tearing his left Achilles tendon in June.
Miles Sanders, the team’s lead running back, was out with a hamstring injury and didn’t travel with the team.
Lane Johnson tried to play but couldn’t go because of an ankle injury lingering from last year. Jack Driscoll filled in for Johnson, while Nate Herbig started at right guard. Both were making their first career start.
Making matters worse, Driscoll went to the locker room in the third quarter and was replaced by Jordan Mailata. Driscoll returned to the sideline in the fourth quarter, but he didn’t play another snap.
“We always say ‘next-man up mentality’ around here,” Wentz said. “Obviously, we miss those guys being out there with us and what they bring to the table. All three of those guys [Brooks, Johnson, and Sanders] are some of the best at what they do. But we feel confident in the guys that stepped on that field."
In Sanders' absence, Boston Scott, Corey Clement, and Jason Huntley combined for 17 attempts for 57 yards, good for 3.4 yards per carry.
The Eagles ran 50 passing plays to the 17 runs. Eagles coach Doug Pederson said the imbalance was because of the flow of the game and lack of production.
“We didn’t do our best in the run game,” Pederson said. “That’s an area that we’ve gotta clean up and make the necessary corrections.”
Defensively, the Eagles were missing two presumptive starters in Derek Barnett and Javon Hargrave, who both missed all of training camp. Barnett is dealing with a hamstring injury, while Hargrave is recovering from a pectoral strain and a hamstring issue. During the game, Brandon Graham left with a head injury and did not return, while Vinny Curry left with a hamstring injury.
With the offseason significantly curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, injuries were a concern for every team, especially considering a player could miss a game with an illness at any time.
Safety Jalen Mills, who missed a few snaps because of an apparent injury, said catching up on practice reps with backups can help alleviate the uncertainty that comes with so many new players.
“As far as [improving communication], that goes into practice with as many guys as possible,” Mills said. “When you know you’re in the rotation, going as hard as possible, being in your playbook and knowing what you’re doing, so when communication [breakdowns] do happen, nobody is panicking, everyone is getting in their right spots and playing fast."