The Eagles will convene Monday for the first time since their upset victory Thursday at Green Bay with five injured cornerbacks, four games into their season.
Maybe we’ll find out that Sidney Jones (hamstring) and/or Avonte Maddox (concussion, neck injury) could be OK to play this coming weekend against the Jets, but still. Five injured corners? For the team that had to use 10 cornerbacks to get through the 2018 season, this is especially egregious. It makes some fans ready to see the entire 2020 draft class traded to Jacksonville for disaffected shutdown corner Jalen Ramsey.
Again, just as was the case last season, the Eagles could go into a game counting on a starting corner – this time, Craig James – brought up from their practice squad, still learning their defense after spending training camp and the preseason elsewhere.
How do you end up repeating such a terrible script?
In fairness, one of the injured corners, Jalen Mills, went down last October, and perhaps shouldn’t count toward this year’s total, except that it seemed all offseason that the Eagles were counting on Mills to play, sooner rather than later. Ultimately he started the season on the physically unable to perform list and will be eligible to return from his foot injury after the Minnesota game, Oct. 13.
But a lot of the problem can be blamed on the Eagles counting on guys with injury histories not to get injured again. Ronald Darby, who missed 15 of his first 32 Eagles games, now has a fairly serious hamstring strain. Go figure.
Even more alarming, in the long run, is Jones. He was deemed a great draft bargain because he dropped to the second round after tearing an Achilles. He missed his rookie year. Last year he started off pretty well, but really fell off when a succession of soft-tissue leg injuries began. Ultimately he played in nine games, not at all memorably.
This training camp and preseason, Jones looked like the Eagles’ best corner. “Much better this year than last year, obviously,” Jones said in August. “I’m more comfortable, just in general. … I’m healthy, I feel good.”
He stayed healthy throughout. He started the season playing mostly in the nickel spot. Through two games, Pro Football Focus had him ranked fifth among NFL corners in opposing quarterback rating.
In the wake of Darby’s hamstring injury, suffered against Detroit, the Eagles needed Jones to start on the outside Thursday night, and they needed him to be the difference-maker they drafted.
Instead, Jones left in the second series, with a hamstring. The first series, matched in one-on-one coverage outside against Davante Adams, he gave up a 58-yard reception that set up the game’s first touchdown – though the NFL’s Next Gen Stats noted that in catching Adams to eventually make the tackle, Jones reached a solid 21.21 mph.
Jones’s having to leave so early threw Jim Schwartz’s secondary into disarray. Maddox had to move outside, and unlike last season, when he was such a poised, solid rookie, Maddox seemed to be spinning in his cleats, giving up receptions all over the field, before teammate Andrew Sendejo blasted him in the jaw with a helmet-first hit, with 1 minute and 6 seconds remaining. Maddox left the field on a stretcher.
Miraculously, the Eagles’ defense found a way to pull the game out, with James, playing his second snap of the evening, making a perfect play on a slant and deflecting the Aaron Rodgers pass to linebacker Nigel Bradham – the sort of thing that has happened a few times in the Schwartz era. But the secondary remains in crisis, and digging up the remains of Orlando Scandrick to bolster its numbers this week is hardly a long-term solution.
The Eagles got a huge reprieve at Green Bay when Adams left the game with a toe injury, just inside 11 minutes remaining, having caught 10 passes for 180 yards. He is Rodgers’ only really dangerous weapon, yet the Packers still managed to move the ball with ease after he left. (Until they got inside the Eagles, 5, anyhow.)
“This secondary seems to be just hanging on,” Troy Aikman noted on the broadcast, just after Johnathan Cyprien took a particularly hapless pass-interference penalty. “Even without Davante Adams, I think these matchups favor the Packers.”
Right now, Rasul Douglas, James, and Scandrick are the Eagles’ healthy corners. The injured five comprise Mills, Cre’Von LeBlanc (foot), Jones, Maddox, and Darby.
Ramsey, inactive Sunday in Denver because of a supposed back injury, would certainly be a long-term solution, but the Eagles can’t force the Jags to trade him here. And a team that has selected just five players in each of the last two drafts might not be wise to ransom a huge chunk of its future for one player, especially when that player is set to become a free agent in 2021.