With two regular-season games remaining, the playoff-bound Eagles are hobbling to the finish line.
During the team’s 40-34 loss to the Cowboys on Saturday, a pair of key starters went down with injuries. Right tackle Lane Johnson sustained an abdominal injury, while cornerback Avonte Maddox sustained a toe injury. Coach Nick Sirianni on Monday said both players are expected to miss “a little bit of time.” According to league sources, Johnson is expected to be sidelined for the remainder of the regular season, although the team is hopeful he returns for the playoffs.
The Eagles play the Saints (Sunday) and Giants (Jan. 7 or 8) at Lincoln Financial Field. If the Eagles defeat the Saints, they’ll clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed, which would secure them a bye week along with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Their first playoff game would be in approximately three-and-a-half weeks — on either Jan. 21 or 22 – at Lincoln Financial Field.
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“They’ll probably miss a little bit of time. We’re still evaluating through everything,” Sirianni said. “But we’ll never put a timetable on anybody. It’s early on in the process here too with these guys, so we want to get some information back. But it’s kind of looking that way. We’ll see on the severity and how long it will be.”
Starting quarterback and NFL MVP candidate Jalen Hurts is also dealing with a shoulder injury that sidelined him on Saturday. Without Hurts, the Eagles rolled out backup Gardner Minshew, who completed 24 of 40 passes for 355 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. There’s a chance Minshew could be under center again this weekend with Hurts’ status still up in the air.
“As far as Jalen goes, we’ll see, it’s one day at a time here,” Sirianni said. “We saw how much he wanted to play [vs. Cowboys], and how much he did to get his body ready. His body heals differently than yours and mine. He’s going to do everything that he can do to get himself healthy. If he’s healthy, he’ll play.”
Meanwhile, Johnson, 32, was injured during the fourth quarter on Saturday. He was replaced by reserve offensive lineman Jack Driscoll. Following the game, Johnson was spotted leaving the visitors’ locker room sporting a medical bandage around his waist/groin area. Further tests revealed that Johnson had torn a tendon in his abdominal area, a league source said.
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The Eagles are hopeful that Johnson will return for the postseason, although that could depend on how his body responds to treatment over the next several weeks, a league source said.
Johnson, a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection, has been a key anchor to one of the NFL’s best offensive lines since the Eagles selected him with the No. 4 pick in the 2013 draft. He has not allowed a sack in 28 games, which is the longest streak in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
“He’s just dialed in,” tight end Dallas Goedert said recently. “Anytime he gets his hands on somebody, it’s game over. That record is a [heck] of a feat. Anytime he steps on the field, he’s the best tackle there is.”
Johnson initially suffered an abdominal injury earlier in the month during the Eagles’ Week 14 victory over the New York Giants. At the time, Johnson described his injury as a “tweak” to his “lower right ab/oblique area.” While Johnson missed the second half of that game, he was back in the starting lineup the following week in Chicago.
Over Johnson’s 10 seasons, the Eagles are 72-44-1 (.620) when he plays, and just 12-20 (.375) without him in the lineup.
With Johnson sidelined for an extended period, the Eagles currently face a couple of personnel decisions. Driscoll is the de facto reserve at right tackle, but the coaching staff might consider moving Jordan Mailata from left to right tackle and inserting backup Andre Dillard in at left tackle.
In Maddox’s case, the Eagles might rely on backup Josiah Scott, who struggled against Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb. When healthy, the Eagles boast one of the NFL’s best defensive back trios with Maddox starring in the slot alongside outside cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry.
But Maddox, 26, has already missed six games this season due to injuries. He’s recorded 43 tackles, one interception, and three passes defended over nine games. Maddox sustained his toe injury while he recorded a sack on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott in the first half.
“As much as we want these guys to play, it’s always about their health first and the long-term health for the player,” Sirianni said. “Anything is on the table. I love the fact that Jordan has some versatility. I love that Andre and Jack are really good backups. We have a lot of faith in them to go out there and do their jobs.
“We’re bummed about Lane missing any time. But we’re also confident in the guys that we have on the roster.”
Sirianni concluded: “One of the earliest talks we had during training camp is … adversity is coming. When you go through these things in life and football, when you have the leaders that we have, it makes those roads a little bit easier to navigate. Is it still hard? Absolutely it’s still hard. Are we still mad about our loss? Absolutely we are. But sometimes that fuels you to dig even deeper so you don’t let each other down. We’re going to dig deeper, we’re going to find more answers.”