As the Eagles prepare to host the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night, Inquirer Sports columnists Marcus Hayes and Mike Sielski will debate four issues facing the Eagles, today through Saturday.
Today’s issue: Should the Eagles rest their starters on Saturday?
» READ MORE: Here is MIKE SIELSKI'S take
If you believe the old, exhausted, undermanned Eagles should play their starters Sunday in a meaningless season finale Saturday against Dallas in 19-degree weather, then I cannot help you.
Thanks to a COVID outbreak among the Washington Football Team three weeks ago, the Birds had to play their last three games in 13 days. They did this at the end of the first 17-game season in NFL history. They play their next game on another short week; so, four games in 19 days. Again, after a 17-game NFL season.
Thanks to their own COVID outbreak, 12 Eagles landed on the reserve list Monday. They can return as early as Saturday, but they should remain there through Saturday.
Their best players — Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, and Darius Slay — are 34, 31, 31, and 31.
Kelce and Cox landed on the COVID list Monday. Assuming they clear protocols in the new five-day window, like Carson Wentz did in Indianapolis last week, Kelce and Cox will have been idle all week — not the best scenario in which to bring back old guys. More seriously, COVID-19 generally tends to diminish athletes’ fitness, so why even consider it?
The Eagles are in the playoffs. They gain virtually nothing if they win Saturday. Playing to influence which playoff opponent you’re more likely to face is a fool’s game.
That’s why playing the starters against the Dallas Cowboys is not just unwise.
It’s unthinkable. Madness. Dereliction of duty.
Which is why it was completely predictable that Mike McCarthy, the worst successful coach in NFL history, will do it. McCarthy said Monday he plans to play his starters. NFL coaches, a rule of thumb: Whatever McCarthy does, do the opposite.
On the other hand, it’s virtually impossible that Nick Sirianni, Mr. Player Safety, would consider doing this.
Sirianni under-practiced his players all season to keep them healthy (it worked). He’s now going to put them in meaningless peril?
His quarterback, Jalen Hurts, who’d started just four NFL games, took 10 snaps in the preseason. Sirianni’s going to let Hurts, still hindered by an ankle injury, face a game-wrecker like Micah Parsons?
Cox, the centerpiece of the defense, turned 31 last month. He’s already had a low-energy season, and he played 83% of the snaps Sunday, tied for his second-highest percentage this season. Now, presumably, COVID. If Cox does anything more strenuous than watch TV on Saturday, fire the damn coach.
Kelce injured an elbow, ankle, and knee this season. Between the supportive braces and the surgeries, he’s already 50% cyborg. Now, presumably, COVID. Give him a break.
If you want “Big Play” Slay to make a few big plays in the playoffs — he hasn’t had an interception since before Thanksgiving and he hasn’t defended a pass in two weeks — then let him sit this one out.
Johnson had two false-start penalties Sunday and played his worst game since he returned from a three-game absence in Game 7. He’s gassed. Let him refuel.
Rodney McLeod, now a part-time player at age 31, also landed on the COVID list. In the last two games, he collected two interceptions and forced a third. He’s done enough.
There’s an argument that, if the 12 players on the COVID list get cleared, a few snaps on Saturday night would do them good. Shake out the cobwebs, as it were.
Outbreak or not, fielding a team full of 30-somethings in freezing temperatures, on a short week, after playing three times in 13 days, with a playoff game a week later — why, that’s the sort of thing only Mike McCarthy would do.