The Eagles played a game Thursday night, so it pretty much goes without saying that an offensive lineman went down.
Eagles offensive lineman injured.
These are the three things you can count on right now. The starting line combination against the Giants was their sixth in seven games.
This time the injured party was a repeat customer, right tackle Lane Johnson. Johnson’s reward for taping up his ailing left ankle and helping out the ravaged O-line was a medial collateral knee sprain to the same leg, which left him face down and pounding the Lincoln Financial Field turf after the ill-fated fourth-down end zone pass attempt to Hakeem Butler, on the second play of the fourth quarter.
Many Eagles fans suffered similar distress watching this play unfold, but Johnson’s pain was physical. Earlier in the evening, during the Eagles' opening drive, he left for what turned out to be two snaps, then hobbled back onto the field. This time, Johnson did not return.
The word going into the weekend was that it was a Grade 1 sprain, the mildest sort, which would give Johnson a chance of patching himself back together before the Eagles have to take the field again, Nov. 1 at the Linc against Dallas. But the wonky ankle complicates that scenario.
“Gotta see where Lane is next week,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Friday, as the team broke for the weekend.
Johnson’s replacement Thursday was Matt Pryor, the guy who’d been starting at right guard, with indifferent results, until he missed the Ravens game after having been exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. Pryor came off the reserve list the day of the Giants game and hadn’t practiced, so the coaches moved Nate Herbig to right guard and gave Sua Opeta his first NFL start, at left guard.
This did not go well. Opeta was walked back into Carson Wentz several times. He was flagged twice for holding, one of the penalties declined. Pryor, meanwhile, not only hadn’t practiced, but he hadn’t practiced at tackle in heaven knows how long. Given the circumstances, his 22 snaps were not disastrous.
Overall, the Giants' defensive line – the best unit on a bad team, which also could serve as a description of the Eagles' defensive line – kept Wentz in a constant state of flight. He added three more sacks to bring his league-high total to 28, all three coming in the first half.
It didn’t help that holes for running backs to dash through were at a premium. Take away the 12-yard DeSean Jackson jet sweep and the Eagles, minus Miles Sanders (knee), ran 25 times for 84 yards, 3.36 yards per carry.
Yes, the Eagles won, and gained at least a momentary hold on first place in the NFC East. But as bad as the division is, the Eagles are unlikely to win it with their offensive line playing at this level. The biggest mismatch of the night was the Giants' defensive line against the guys lined up across from them. The Giants are a 1-6 team.
Pro Football Focus’ grades for the game reflected the blockers' struggles. Left tackle Jordan Mailata posted his worst numbers of the year -- 47.7 overall, 48.0 pass blocking, 44.4 run-blocking. (PFF considers anything below 60 “replacement level,” and 70 is the minimum for an effort worthy of a starter.) Opeta was graded at 48.9, 35.7, and 55.4. For center Jason Kelce, the line read 67.2, 39.2, 81.1. The pass-blocking grade was Kelce’s lowest of the season.
Despite switching sides to accommodate Opeta, Nate Herbig graded at 61.4, 63.9, and 60.5. Johnson, hobbled as he was, managed the best grades of the group – 68.3, 77.3, 58.5.
How does this get fixed? Well, as we noted, Johnson might be able to haul himself out there very soon, if not for Dallas, then after the ensuing bye. Jason Peters, who went down with a toe injury three weeks ago, also seems to be on the mend.
Pederson spoke Friday of linebacker T.J. Edwards and safety Rudy Ford being “close to returning,” and added that “Jason Peters is probably in that boat … I’m hoping we get a few of these guys back, going into the Cowboys game.”
Pederson deferred discussing whether Peters would go back to left tackle, considering that Mailata generally has played well, and that guard has been a bigger problem. Peters was signed to play right guard this season when Brandon Brooks suffered an Achilles tear in June, then moved back to his familiar left tackle spot when Andre Dillard suffered a biceps tear.
“I think when J.P. comes back … that’ll be a conversation we’ll have internally, to see what’s best for the football team,” Pederson said. He indicated that it would be pleasant to be able to have such a conversation, since “we really haven’t had many options here lately.”
Jack Driscoll, the rookie right tackle who was playing for Johnson before going down with his own ankle injury against the Ravens, could be back for Dallas, should be back after the bye, it would seem. There has been no word on former starting left guard Isaac Seumalo, who underwent knee surgery a month ago after a Week 2 injury.
The trade deadline is Nov. 3, during the Eagles' bye week. But given how far over the 2021 salary cap the Eagles project to be, and their desire to carry over as much room as possible, a substantial addition would be a surprise.
There aren’t a lot of really useful offensive linemen on the street right now, as the Jamon Brown experience has proved. Sixth-round rookie Prince Tega Wanogho, Driscoll’s former Auburn teammate, is on the practice squad. At this point, if he were ready to help, you’d think he’d be on the roster. And there’s Brett Toth, the ex-Army lineman who returned to the Eagles after being cut by the Cardinals.
Asked about his line after the game Thursday, Wentz was in “everybody makes mistakes” mode, which was a good mode to be in, considering that Wentz made some doozies.
“As long as they keep coming back, and are resilient and fighting – and that’s what I’ve seen every week now. … I’m proud of those guys and how they keep coming along,” he said. “Even when they make mistakes.”