Whenever Doug Pederson is asked what went wrong for the 2020 Eagles, he quickly mentions injuries.
He always says, “Not to make excuses,” and then he does it anyway.
And it is a valid point. To an extent.
Injuries have been a huge factor in the Eagles transforming from a Super Bowl team to a playoff team to a last-place team.
Seven offensive starters and five defensive starters plus 10 other key players and part-time starters have missed games this year. Going into Sunday’s season finale against Washington, the Eagles have lost 124 player games due to injury, and that doesn’t even include fringe players or special teamers who’ve gotten hurt and missed significant playing time.
The secondary, offensive line and wide receivers have been hardest hit, but injuries have struck everywhere. Nothing new. It's been an annual tradition around here.
One thing the Eagles’ brain trust will have to do this offseason figure out why the Eagles have been the most injured team in the NFL over the last three years and try to fix it.
But there’s another challenge that all these injuries bring. And that’s determining how much of the Eagles’ collapse is on the coaches and how much is on the injuries.
And it’s not an easy thing to do.
The Eagles were legitimately bad this year. They earned that 4-10-1 record through poor coaching, disappointing play and a roster without talent.
By the same token, I don’t think anybody believes that if Brandon Brooks, Miles Sanders, Rodney McLeod, DeSean Jackson, Lane Johnson, Avonte Maddox and all the rest were healthy the Eagles would still be a 4-10-1 team.
So how much is Howie’s fault? How much is Doug’s fault? And how much is injuries?
These are critical questions and difficult questions.
Because if Lurie determines that injuries were the main reason for the Eagles’ plunge to the bottom of the NFC East, then he’s not going to make any major changes this offseason.
But if he determines that poor coaching and lack of talent were the overriding factors in a miserable season and the injuries were only an unfortunate contributing factor, then it's far more likely he’ll shake things up.
But how do you weigh it all? It’s easy to sit here and say if the Eagles had Brandon Brooks at right guard instead of Jamon Brown for the Ravens, Calais Campbell wouldn't have had three sacks and maybe the Eagles wouldn’t have lost by two points.
Or if they had Avonte Maddox at corner instead of Michael Jacquet Sunday, Michael Gallup wouldn’t have had 121 yards and two touchdowns and the Eagles would have won.
Or if they had Miles Sanders for the opener they would have had more than 57 rushing yards and not blown a 17-point lead against Washington.
But the Eagles didn’t have to sign Brown, who was clearly overmatched. And if they hadn’t given up on Sidney Jones or Rasul Douglas they would have been better equipped to deal with cornerback injuries. And who knows, even if Sanders were healthy for the opener maybe Pederson wouldn’t have given Miles any carries in the second half.
So it’s complicated. There's so much that goes into it, and Lurie’s task is to evaluate Roseman and Pederson independently of the injuries.
Did Roseman supply enough depth at key positions? Did Pederson coach the guys he had well enough?
The answers are mixed.
The Eagles always play hard for Pederson, no matter who’s out there, and that’s a positive. It says a lot about his command of the locker room. But some of his in-game gaffes and baffling decisions had nothing to do with injuries, they were just inexplicable poor judgment.
And Howie did find some more undrafted, late-round and practice squad contributors, from Jordan Mailata to Nate Herbig to Alex Singleton to Jack Driscoll to Travis Fulgham (for a while at least). But the high-end talent, especially at the skill positions, just isn’t there. Healthy or not.
My guess is that Lurie will look at the pandemic and the crazy circumstances of the 2020 season and the lack of a preseason along with the latest rash of injuries and keep Roseman and Pederson in their current roles.
Super Bowl equity and the built-in injury excuse will probably buy Doug and Howie another year.
But at some point soon, the Eagles have to win football games. At some point soon, Doug and Howie have to be held accountable for the bottom line.
Because a season like this is simply unacceptable. No matter how many sprained ankles, torn ACLs and sore hamstrings.