Torrey Smith will wear a Carolina Panthers uniform on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. His replacement in Philadelphia, Mike Wallace, won't wear any uniform while recovering from a fractured fibula on injured reserve. Without either player on the Eagles' depth chart, Carson Wentz lacks a designated deep threat.
"Those are two guys that aren't on the field with us right now, so we're trying to create some of those circumstances in different ways," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "Torrey was out there every week last year, so there was continuity there, and then Mike goes down Week 2. So, that's an element that we're searching for a little bit."
Despite the absences of Smith and Wallace, the Eagles are actually slightly better at the deep ball than last season through the first six games. They are 8 of 25 on passes that travel for than 20 yards in six games this year and were 7 of 25 during that same time frame one year ago. They haven't always been designed deep balls – Doug Pederson pointed out that the Eagles have benefited from broken plays, and Nelson Agholor had a big gain last week even though the play wasn't designed for him to catch it deep – but the yards count the same.
Still, the dynamic of the offense is different without the deep threat on the outside. The wide receiver spot opposite of Jeffery was held by Smith last season. It was supposed to be Wallace this year. The deep speed of Smith and Wallace forces teams to play the Eagles differently, as Smith learned throughout the Eagles' Super Bowl season. Smith said the deep threat can open space for Agholor underneath and Zach Ertz in the middle of the field.
"It's important to stretch the field, to keep them the honest," Smith said. "Even if you're not getting the ball, that's what people take for granted. …It forces the guys to back up, even if the ball isn't thrown to them. It's definitely important, and we all know Coach Pederson isn't afraid to dial it up and take shots."
Since Wallace's injury, the Eagles have turned to different players in that spot, most notably Jordan Matthews. They have also played more two-tight end sets with only two wide receivers on the field.
Matthews was the recipient of a 56-yard touchdown from Wentz in Week 4, which was the second longest pass Wentz has completed this season. His three passes for greater than 40 yards have gone to Agholor, Matthews, and Shelton Gibson. He's also hit deep passes to Jeffery, Ertz, and Wendell Smallwood. Plus, the Eagles are hoping that Wallace can return from injured reserve later this season.
This contributes to Wentz's argument that the Eagles have enough players capable of big plays, even if the Eagles don't necessarily have that designated deep threat.
"We've got a handful of guys," Wentz said. "I think you've seen it from Nelson, obviously. Alshon's always a guy who can make big plays down the field. [Matthews] last week, I thought we almost had that big one in the end zone. Shelton Gibson, when he comes in, I think he gives us a spark. I'm not too concerned about that. I think we have a lot of guys who can take the top off the defense, so to speak, to stretch it out."
Wherever it comes from, the Eagles need the deep ball. Six of Wentz's touchdowns last season went for more than 50 yards. The Eagles have put together long scoring drives and benefited from short fields, but it helps when they don't need to rely on converting tough third downs and red-zone plays in order to reach the end zone.
"It's something that we evaluate every week," Pederson said. "I try to call as many as I can when I can. A lot of factors – protection, and things like that, the run game – all have to be on point for us to do that. But we just go into each game trying and hoping obviously to gain some more. It's hard to go 12 and 14 plays all the time, nine plays. You want to be able to put five- and six-play drives together, but you need a chunk in there somewhere."
Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills was added to the injury report with a hamstring injury that limited him at Thursday's practice session. Quarterback Carson Wentz was a full participant on Thursday after he was limited on Wednesday because of a back injury. Right tackle Lane Johnson was back at practice on a limited basis after sitting on Wednesday.
The Eagles practiced without cornerback Sidney Jones (hamstring), Darren Sproles (hamstring), linebacker D.J. Alexander (quadriceps), linebacker Nate Gerry (ankle/knee), and safety Corey Graham (hamstring) because of injuries. Cornerback Rasul Douglas also missed practice for the second consecutive day, but it was for a personal reason that was not injury related.