Eagles

Are the 2019 Eagles better or worse along the offensive line?

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Are the 2019 Eagles better or worse along the offensive line?

The Eagles invested their first-round draft pick into the offensive line, but injuries were more widespread than one position last season. Will the unit be better or worse in 2019?

Key additions: Andre Dillard (draft, first round) 

Key departures: None

Why they could be better: Healthy bodies

Noticing a trend in this series? The Eagles’ bad injury luck in 2018 hit the offensive line hard, even though the affected players somehow missed a grand total of one game. Jason Peters was coming off a torn ACL to begin with, then went on to exit somewhere around half the games early with various dings. Jason Kelce battled injuries all year, yet hardly missed a snap, and Lane Johnson only failed to suit up once when it turns out he wasn’t practicing pretty much the entire season.

All three were already playing better down the stretch, a sign the unit was getting healthy. Kelce hasn’t missed a game since 2014, Johnson is traditionally very durable (suspensions notwithstanding) and Peters is another year removed from major knee surgery. Obviously, injuries can strike at any time, but 2019 is setting up as a clean slate for 60 percent of the Eagles’ front, which is a good sign.

Why they could be worse: Brandon Brooks’ injury

The injury gods giveth, but primarily they taketh. Brooks has designs on being ready to return potentially as early as Week 1 — it’s just hard to fathom that timetable is based in reality. He ruptured his Achilles tendon in January. That’s less than eight months turnaround from an injury that could take upwards of a year to fully recover from, if it doesn’t derail an athlete’s career entirely.

It’s plausible, if not likely the Eagles won’t have Brooks in uniform until November or December, and then what kind of player will they be inserting at right guard? A two-time Pro Bowler, or a guy working his way back from a major injury? And whoever is replacing Brooks until then — from the looks of things at OTAs, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who’s never played guard before — has massive shoes to fill, as this is one of the most dominant interior linemen in the NFL the past two seasons.

The X-factor: Left tackle

There’s an old saying around here: 80 percent of Jason Peters is better than 80 percent of the left tackles in the league. So when the 37-year-old legend occasionally gets beat because he simply doesn’t get around like he used to, it’s accepted because he’s probably taking care of business the rest of the time.

Except the trouble with Peters isn’t necessarily his performance. It’s the matter of availability, which has been an issue the past few seasons. He tapped out of games with injuries in 2015. He was shelved by an ACL in 2017. Then last year, it not only took a while for Peters to return to anything remotely resembling form, but actually finish whole games. It will be interesting to see how much work the nine-time Pro Bowler can actually handle, and if wear and tear accumulate, whether either first-round draft pick Andre Dillard or rugby star-turned-football prospect Jordan Mailata can plug the hole. Recent history suggests one of them may need to.

Is the Eagles’ offensive line better or worse?

It’s hard to get around the strong likelihood Brooks will miss time. It’s also hard to project a 16-plus-game season where Peters doesn’t exit an important game early. Dillard may help ease the loss of a Hall of Fame talent at left tackle, but it’s a lot to ask of a rookie. And while the Eagles have some nice depth pieces in Vaitai and Stefan Wisniewski, the appearance they are needed and not just luxuries is worrisome.

WORSE

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Doug Pederson hoping to mix new face Jay Ajayi into Eagles' running attack

Doug Pederson hoping to mix new face Jay Ajayi into Eagles' running attack

Doug Pederson said he hopes to get recently re-acquired running back Jay Ajayi more involved in the offense as the Eagles head into the stretch run.

Ajayi has eight carries for 25 yards and a 3.1 average in two games since returning to the Eagles following a year layoff. 

A Pro Bowler in 2016 with the Dolphins and a stud down the stretch during the Super Bowl season, Ajayi suffered a torn ACL in Week 5 last year and didn’t play from Oct. 7, 2018, until Nov. 24, 2019, when he made his 2019 debut against the Seahawks.

Ajayi didn't have OTAs or a training camp and didn't even practice until the Wednesday before the Seattle game. 

It's a process with him, but we understand who he is and the injury that he's coming off of, so we're careful with that,” Pederson said. “But at the same time, he's a bigger, powerful guy that we can use in spots.

With Jordan Howard missing the last three games with nerve damage in his shoulder, rookie Miles Sanders has essentially been the entire running attack. But the Eagles are so hesitant to increase his workload significantly that it’s created a situation in which the Eagles just haven’t run the ball very much during their three-game losing streak because they haven’t had a viable second option.

During these last three games, Sanders has 40 carries, Ajayi eight and Boston Scott seven.

This is the first time the Eagles have leaned this heavily on one back in a three-game stretch since 2012. 

During a late-season three-game stretch in which LeSean McCoy was hurt, Bryce Brown got 52 carries and Dion Lewis had four.

The Eagles ran 45 percent of the time in the nine games Howard played and 31 percent since he got hurt. They’re 0-3 without him.

Miles has done a great job,” Pederson said Saturday. “I’d love to get Jay a few more touches and get Boston in the mix so we're not obviously wearing Miles down here this last month of the season.

The current stretch is the first in franchise history that the Eagles have thrown at least 40 times and run the ball 23 or fewer times in three straight games.

Howard hasn’t played since before the bye week and is out for the Eagles’ game Monday night against the Giants. 

Pederson said earlier in the week he doesn’t expect this to be a season-ending injury, but will Howard be able to pick up where he left off after such a long layoff even if he does return?

The Eagles began the season with Howard, Sanders, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles in what looked to be a deep running back rotation. 

Sanders is the only one of that group left. Can Ajayi make a difference after such a long layoff? Sounds like Pederson wants to find out.

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Eagles Injury Update: Latest on Derek Barnett, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Howard

Eagles Injury Update: Latest on Derek Barnett, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Howard

Updated: 3:39 p.m.

Derek Barnett and Nelson Agholor will likely be game-time decisions for Monday Night Football, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said on Saturday morning. 

Barnett (ankle) and Agholor (knee) both missed all three days of practice this week and are listed as questionable.

Meanwhile, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol. He was just placed in protocol on Thursday and won't play Monday night. 

And Jordan Howard (shoulder) has still not been cleared for contact; he can’t play until he is and that’s not happening before Monday. He's officially questionable. 

Lane Johnson also missed practice on Friday and Saturday for a non-injury reason but is expected to play on Monday. 

If Agholor is unable to play, the Eagles would be left with just three healthy receivers on the roster: Alshon Jeffery, JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward. 

“We’re very comfortable, obviously, with the guys we have,” Pederson said. “So if it’s three, it’s three. We brought up [Josh Perkins] a week ago to help us there, so it’s an addition there. We go and we go play. We’ll discuss those over the next couple of days leading up to the game. If we have to make a decision we will. We feel good with the guys we have in that receiver role.” 

If the Eagles do decide to make a roster move, they have three wide receivers on their practice squad: Robert Davis, Marcus Green and Marken Michel. 

While Agholor had his knee injury before last week’s game, Barnett got hurt during the loss in Miami, but was still able to play through the injury and play 50 snaps. Barnett has played the third-most defensive snaps on the team this year, so losing him for this game wouldn’t be insignificant. 

If Barnett can’t play, expect Josh Sweat and Vinny Curry to get more reps. After that, Genard Avery, Daeshon Hall and even Shareef Miller could see a few snaps. 

For the Giants: 

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