The quality Eagles will miss most with Jay Ajayi done

The quality Eagles will miss most with Jay Ajayi done

They have other good running backs. They have depth. They have experience.
They just don't have another Jay Ajayi.
The Eagles returned to practice Tuesday on a short week without the centerpiece of their running game.
Ajayi, whose 5.8 rushing average was second-highest in the NFL among running backs the second half of last season, is out for the season with a torn left ACL.
That injury leaves the Eagles picking up the pieces at running back, which at one point was one of their deepest positions.
"We're going to miss Jay's physicality, for sure," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "To sit here and say we won't miss Jay isn't fair."
Ajayi, who played Sunday with a small fracture in his back, finishes the 2018 season with 45 carries for 184 yards, five catches for 20 yards and a team-high three touchdowns.
"It's tough," Carson Wentz. "I feel for him. He's been battling little things and then this happens. I feel terrible for him. I know what it's like.
"Going forward, I know those are big shoes to fill but I feel we've got the guys to step up and that are ready for it."
• Wendell Smallwood has a 6.0 rushing average on 25 carries and 10 catches for 96 more yards. His 246 yards from scrimmage are the most by any NFL running back this year on 35 or fewer touches.
• Corey Clement is averaging 4.1 yards on 27 carries and has 74 yards on eight catches. His 186 yards are sixth-most in the NFL by a running back with 35 or fewer touches.
• Josh Adams, an undrafted rookie, ran six times for 30 yards against the Colts in his only extended playing time so far this year.   
Darren Sproles is still out with a hamstring injury suffered on opening day, but Clement practiced Tuesday and should be back Thursday night for the Giants. 
"Jay was a violent, downhill runner that sought contact and loved to feed off that until he got us going," Wentz said.
"But we feel confident in these guys stepping up. We've seen Wendell the last couple weeks step up and make plays, and getting Corey back out there will be big for us and Josh will have to increase his role and Sproles as well coming back hopefully soon.
"We still have a stable of workhorses there, but it's tough losing him."
Nobody's quite sure how much of a workload Clement can handle after missing the Titans and Vikings games, but without Ajayi, expect Clement and Smallwood to share the workload with Adams getting some work as well.
"That's always the approach," Wentz said. "Even when Jay was the starter, but we've always done it by committee."
The Eagles, 2-2, face the 1-4 Giants at the Meadowlands at 8:20 p.m. Thursday. The Eagles are trying to avoid a three-game losing streak.
The Eagles haven't been running the ball enough lately, but the Giants are 27th in the NFL in rush defense, giving up 124 yards per game and 25th, allowing 4.6 yards per carry.
This is the perfect week for the Eagles to commit to the run. Even without Ajayi.
When Ajayi missed the Colts game, the Eagles ran for 151 yards, including 56 each from Smallwood and Clement and 30 from Adams.
"Jay is an excellent running back, but we've gotten these guys a lot of experience, they've played in enough games to be able to go out there and play and run our system, so we're confident in what they can do," Groh said.
The key is Clement, who had 100 receiving yards in the Super Bowl.
He's the Eagles' most complete back. A tough, hard-nosed, inside runner, a terrific receiver and a willing blocker.
"We're just hoping to get Corey back to being Corey," Groh said. "He's been battling and I know he's been working really hard these last couple weeks to get healthy. Made enough progress to be active last week, so a few more days, I think he'll be feeling a little bit better.
"He's a versatile player. He runs really well between the tackles. He can be that physical style of running back that we're talking about that Jay is, plus he's an outstanding receiver out of the backfield. He gives us a lot of versatility back there."

40-year-old Josh McCown was getting ready to play WR on Monday night

40-year-old Josh McCown was getting ready to play WR on Monday night

The Eagles entered Monday night’s game with just three healthy wide receivers and after Alshon Jeffery and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside got hurt, they were down to just one. 

So who would have been the next guy in? 

Well, 40-year-old quarterback Josh McCown was getting ready. 

“I was ready to go,” McCown told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark. “We had the helmet ready to go. The equipment guys were all over it. Had the radio-less helmet because you can’t have two green dots on the field at the same time.” 

McCown didn’t end up playing in Monday’s 23-17 overtime win. The Eagles got by with what they had, which meant playing third tight end Josh Perkins in several different spots. 

But the oldest player on the roster was ready. 

“We were ready to roll,” he said. “Shoot, I’d get in there and go. Obviously, as a quarterback, you know the offense. I guess it was like 12 years ago in Foxboro I had to go in and do it.”

That game McCown was talking about was on Dec. 3, 2006. That was the last time he caught a pass in an NFL game. 

In that game, McCown caught two passes for 15 yards from Lions quarterback Jon Kitna in a 28-21 loss to the Patriots. He also caught a 31-yard pass but it was brought back on an offensive pass interference call that he claimed was “a little suspect.” 

“Hopefully, I don’t get retroactively fined,” McCown said late Monday night, 13 years after the call. 

Is there a statute of limitations on that? 

Anyway, the fact that a 40-year-old McCown was even preparing to enter a game as a receiver is telling. First, about the injuries at that position. And, second, about the poor decision to go into a game with just three healthy receivers. 

Doug Pederson said the Eagles were hoping to have Nelson Agholor for the game, but he came in questionable and was inactive. 

At least they had McCown. 

“I’m not quite the option that J.J. (Arcega-Whiteside) is or Greg (Ward), obviously, but again, we were kind of up against it a little bit,” McCown said. “Just being able to have a contingency plan was the main thing. I was ready to roll.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles 

Carson Wentz rallies Eagles past Giants throwing to ... who???

Carson Wentz rallies Eagles past Giants throwing to ... who???

It was Carson Wentz’s best stretch of football this year and it occurred under some of the most unusual circumstances you can imagine.

Tight ends playing receiver. Slot receivers playing outside. Practice squad guys in key roles.

A week after the Eagles blew a 14-point second-half lead to one two-win team, they rallied back from a 14-point second-half deficit against another two-win team.

And Wentz, after another slow start, finally looked like his old self.

Wentz not only rallied the Eagles back after they trailed by 14 points with two minutes left in the third quarter, he did it while throwing to Boston Scott, Greg Ward, Josh Perkins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside – none of whom were even playing a month ago – as well as Zach Ertz.

It is not easy,” Ertz said. “As a quarterback, chemistry, trust and timing is the No. 1 thing, and he’s putting a lot of trust in guys that he does not have a lot of reps with, and I think that speaks volumes of him. Being able to go out there, and it doesn’t really matter who is out there, NFC East opponent, down 17-3, and play his best football in that second half all year? I am extremely proud of him tonight with the way he led us.

Wentz threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ critical 23-17 overtime win over the Giants at the Linc.

But look at his numbers on the Eagles’ five drives during their late comeback: 21-for-28 for 226 yards with two TD passes to Ertz, including the game-winner in overtime.

You go into the game with three receivers and now you’ve got Greg Ward usually in the slot and he’s out there playing (outside)," Wentz said. "You’ve got guys moving around. For me, I’ve got no choice but to trust these guys. Some of these routes I’ve never even repped before in those situations, but they stepped up and made plays. They did a great job.

This was vintage Wentz. But it couldn’t have happened without guys making plays around him.

And it's been a while since we've seen that.

With Nelson Agholor out, Alshon Jeffery leaving with an early injury and Mack Hollins and Jordan Matthews long gone, Wentz had to rally the Eagles back from 17-3 with guys he’s barely practiced with.

With a shot at the playoffs at stake.

Just keep believing,” Wentz said. “Keep believing and it’s time to make a decision how this is going to define us. Obviously, we knew it was not our first half. That was a rough one and that was an ugly one. We just said, ‘Keep believing and keep staying together.’ Defense was going to take care of their piece, which they did. And we were able to do enough offensively to get this win.

Wentz has had his issues this year, and he had his issues in the first half Monday night.

But it’s amazing how much better he looks when guys are actually catching footballs for him.

This was the first time the Eagles have come back from a 14-point halftime deficit since the 2014 opener, when they beat the Jaguars 34-17 after trailing 17-0.

Before that? Giants in 2010 at the Meadowlands. You might remember a DeSean Jackson punt return as time expired?

In all, the Eagles were 2-45 in their last 47 games when they trailed by at least 14 points at halftime.

Wentz was asked how big it was for him to win his first overtime game and engineer a rally from 14 down at halftime for the first time in his career.

This is huge for this whole team,” he said. “To come in after halftime, to be where we were, and obviously knowing that our backs were against the wall, season on the line-type of thing, for guys to just stay tough and stay together late in the game … and get the win and drive down to score right away? It’s huge for me personally and for this entire team.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles