5 matchups to watch as Eagles host Colts

5 matchups to watch as Eagles host Colts

The Eagles are coming back home after a disappointing loss to the Bucs in Florida last weekend. They’re 1-1 and so are the Colts. 

The Colts got in the win column last weekend against Washington. It was Frank Reich’s first win as a head coach and Doug Pederson made sure to congratulate his former offensive coordinator. 

The Eagles are back home, where they’ve been pretty unbeatable recently. The Eagles are 16-3 at the Linc since Pederson became the head coach in 2016. They’ve been the NFL’s best home team in that stretch. 

Here are five matchups to watch: 

Carson Wentz vs. his own emotions
The long-awaited return of Wentz is finally happening. We knew it wouldn’t be long before Wentz was back on the field after rehabbing from that torn ACL and LCL. But it has been over nine months since he’s played in a game. Aside from rust, Wentz will also have to worry about his emotions and keep them in check. He’s going to be excited; that’s expected. But he needs to make sure he settles into the game. 

He said he’ll try to control his emotions the same way he did in his first NFL start a couple years ago. You’ll remember that in his NFL debut, Wentz threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns as the Eagles crushed the Browns. 

T.Y. Hilton vs. Sidney Jones 
The Eagles were roasted by big plays last Sunday and they’re about to play another burner. While all of the corners will need to be aware of Hilton’s speed, I’m especially excited to see Jones on him. Hilton plays all over the field but still does his best work in the slot. This will be a great challenge for the talented young cornerback. 

Since entering the league in 2012, Hilton is averaging 15.7 yards per reception, the fifth-best mark in the NFL among active players. In his career, he’s had 14 receptions of 50-plus yards. Only four players — DeSean Jackson, A.J. Green, Mike Wallace and Dez Bryant — have had more during that span. 

Joe Haeg vs. Brandon Graham 
Haeg won the Colts’ starting right tackle job in the preseason and has looked OK in the first two games, but Graham will certainly test him. Haeg was Wentz’s teammate at North Dakota State, so Graham was asked if he’s gotten any tips from Wentz. He said no, then dropped this gem. 

“From what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be a good day,” Graham said. 

Graham has one sack through two games. This could be a big game for him if he’s right. 

Matt Slauson vs. Fletcher Cox 
The Colts made a concerted effort to improve their offensive line this offseason and really upgraded at the guard position. They drafted Quenton Nelson in the first round and then signed veteran Slauson. 

This is Slauson’s 10th NFL season, so he’s been around for a long time. But he isn’t a match for Cox. The game inside the game is always watching how teams decide to block Cox. If they try to leave Slauson on him 1-on-1, he won’t hold up all game. Cox has two sacks through two games and has looked really impressive. 

Andrew Luck vs. Eagles secondary
After missing the entire 2017 season with a serious shoulder injury, Luck has played in the first two games of the 2018 season without his arm falling off. That’s a great sign for Luck, Reich and all of Indy. 

The thing that stands out about Luck so far this year is that after 84 attempts, he’s completing 71.4 percent of his passes. That’s impressive. Other than that, he’s thrown for 498 yards, four touchdowns and three picks. It’s still too early to make any determinations about whether or not Luck is really back. 

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Dr. James Sanfilippo explains Carson Wentz's back injury

Dr. James Sanfilippo explains Carson Wentz's back injury

To gain some perspective on Carson Wentz’s back injury, we spoke with an expert.

Here’s our Q&A with Dr. James Sanfilippo, chief of the spine section and medical director at Virtua Brain and Spine Institute in Marlton, New Jersey, and an orthopedic spine surgeon with Reconstructive Orthopedics in Moorestown.

Sanfilippo is not treating Wentz but is a leading expert on the specific injury he suffered, a vertebral fracture.

Q: Can you give us some background on the injury Carson suffered and just some basics on how serious it is?
A: “There are non-operative vertebral, primary bones that stack in the back, separated by the discs. If they’re saying it’s a fracture, one of those blocks is compressed down a little bit. Which is very difficult to diagnose. Sometimes you don’t see it until the bone starts to heal, which could have been the delay in the CAT Scan (revealing a fracture). Picture a Rubik’s cube and the top is sort of compressed down a little bit. Sometimes you won’t see that or notice that on a CAT Scan or on other imaging until it starts to heal and you see other bone starts to develop around it. It’s either that or there are little projections of bone that come off to the sides or off to the back that help support some of the muscles.

If it’s one of those, you might also not see it until the same type of healing process (begins) or if the bone moves a little bit you can see it. Any of those are A) non-operative and B) are extremely irritating to the muscles in the back. So (you get) the muscle spasms, soreness, tightness, however you want to describe it. And all of them heal with time and none of them should be a permanent problem moving forward as far as A) re-injury or B) coming across difficulty moving forward. It’s just symptom management and time to heal.”

Q: What’s the treatment for an injury like this?
A: “Rest and gentle stretching to begin with and then going through the physical therapy and really getting back that full range of motion. But the first thing you need to do is let that inflammation subside and that’s the rest portion. And only he and the trainers and doctors treating him are going to know when he’s symptom-free to then begin to put him back through normal range of motion and normal workouts and eventually back into play.”

Q: What causes an injury like this?
A: “Usually, these type of injuries are impact related. They’re not related to repetitive motion or repetitive stress. When you think of the healthy professional athlete and non-operative, it’s usually one of these types of injuries. Impact or trauma.”

Q: Could Carson play right now?
A: “I think the biggest risk is continually irritating it and having pain and muscle spasms and soreness and then the question is, does that pain and soreness affect his play on the field? And then how long do you prolong those symptoms and prolong the recovery afterwards by playing through it?”

Q: How long a recovery time are we looking at?
A: “You’re looking at (a few) weeks type of range. The biggest problem right now is how long is the Eagles’ season? If there’s a playoffs involved and they make a deep run in the playoffs, can he come back? I don’t see a reason why not if he’s symptom-free. If it’s just regular season, is he able to be symptom-free and get back on the field and do everything he wants to do at 100 percent in a couple weeks after this (Rams) game? That becomes a question.”

Q: How long does it take for the actual fracture to heal?
A: “To fully heal, a fracture can be anywhere from six to nine months, so you’re not really waiting for the fracture itself to heal solid. What you’re waiting for is the symptoms (to stop). You’re waiting for the body to stabilize it so there’s no motion of the bone. That means no inflammation. No inflammation means no muscle spasms and you can get back into motion.”

Q: Carson initially had symptoms in October. Why wouldn’t the fracture appear on a scan back then?
“Some of these fractures are slight enough that you don’t see them until they start to heal and start to form more bone around them. Then all of a sudden you start to see on repeat scans, ‘Oh wait a second, there might have been something here, because now we’re seeing healing.’ Not being privy to the studies that were done, it’s speculation, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it showed nothing six weeks ago and now it shows a fracture.”

Q: So what you see on the scan isn’t the fracture?
A: “Exactly. We call it bony callous. That’s where bone starts to form around the fracture to stabilize it. Often, that’s what we’re seeing.”

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Jordan Matthews says back injury has been affecting Carson Wentz

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Jordan Matthews says back injury has been affecting Carson Wentz

While Carson Wentz’s back injury has taken center stage this week as he’s missed practice and his season could reportedly be over, it’s not a new problem. 

And one of his best friends on the Eagles thinks it had been affecting Wentz for at least some time this season. Wearing a red, white and blue AO1 shirt on Thursday afternoon, Jordan Matthews wouldn’t speculate how long Wentz’s back injury has bothered him, but said he knew it was. 

“He’s one of the toughest dudes I know, but of course it’s going to affect him,” Matthews said. 

A recent CT scan revealed a fracture in Wentz’s back, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark confirmed Thursday. But Wentz’s back issue dates back to at least October. 

Wentz first appeared on the injury report on Oct. 17. He was limited in practice for consecutive Wednesdays before the Panthers and Jaguars games heading into the bye week. 

He has played every snap in all seven games since first appearing on the injury report. But Matthews said, as one of his best friends on the team, he knew the injury was affecting the franchise quarterback. 

Of course, you gotta be somewhat affected. I think you can just look at the quarterback position, you’re going through reads. You have to be able to twist, you have to be able to turn. Carson is probably the best quarterback also throwing off the run, so that affects your running too. He’s wearing a knee brace. This guy is playing through a lot. Do I think it affected him? Of course. Do I know exactly how? I’m not going to speculate on that. What I’m definitely saying is what, he still (has) 20 touchdowns, less than 10 interceptions? That’s still high level production with an injury.

Let’s take a look at Wentz’s production this season: 

Here’s a look at his first four games before appearing on the injury report: 68 percent completion percentage, 1,192 yards (292 per game), 8 touchdowns, 1 interceptions, 104.7 passer rating

And his seven games since hitting the injury report: 70 percent completion percentage, 1,882 yards (269 per game), 13 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 100.5 rating. 

It’s a small sample size, but there was at least a very slight drop-off in his level of play, though it’s hard to see it. And it’s going to be hard to know just how exactly the injury affected Wentz until he gets to talk for himself. Zach Ertz said on Wednesday that Wentz wants to speak to reporters. But until he does, we have to take Matthews’ word for it. 

Wentz was at practice on Thursday, even though he didn’t participate. He was engaging with teammates and made sure to stay with the quarterbacks during drills. 

“Carson, he’s going to handle this like a champ,” Matthews said. “He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league and he’s the best young quarterback in the league, I think hands down. He was even playing at a high level with what he was dealing with. I don’t know if you know, going through reads, it helps to have a healthy back. He was still going out there and producing at a high level with the injury. 

“I think obviously with this situation right now, sitting now, I don’t think it’s affecting his confidence at all. He knows who he is. He knows what he brings to the table and he knows what he means to this team. It just sucks that he can’t play right now, but he’s still out there communicating, we’re talking on the sideline and in between periods. He’s still the same guy, great teammate.”

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