Even after the loss to the Dallas Cowboys, there is no reason to bring back Jalen Hurts before the playoffs while he rests his sprained right shoulder.
And that’s even if it means blowing a chance for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and thus the first-round bye that goes with it − and those chances are remote (see below).
If anything, the Eagles should double down on resting Hurts until the playoffs now that Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson is expected to miss the rest of the regular season with his abdominal injury. The NFL Network reported that Johnson suffered an abdominal tear.
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Eagles coach Nick Sirianni wouldn’t confirm that Monday, but he did say this about Johnson missing games: “it’s kind of looking that way.”
Sirianni also did not rule out the possibility of Hurts returning for the Eagles’ game this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
“We (know) how much he wanted to play last week, and how much he did to get his body ready,” he said. “With Jalen, it’s just his body heals differently than yours and mine. He’s going to do everything he can do to get himself healthy.
“If he’s healthy, he’ll play.”
The Eagles can clinch the NFC East and the No.1 seed in the NFC playoffs with either a win over the Saints or the Giants on Jan. 8.
The website fivethirtyeight.com lists the Eagles’ chances of winning the division at 97% and the top seed at 95%, and that’s after the 40-34 loss to Dallas on Saturday.
So it really comes down to degrees of Hurts being “healthy.”
The best remedy for Hurts’ shoulder is rest and rehab. If Hurts sits out the rest of the regular season, he’ll get five weeks of rest if the Eagles clinch the No. 1 seed, and four weeks if they don’t.
Either way, Hurts will be as close to 100% as possible when the Eagles need him the most.
Then again, if the Eagles were fighting for a playoff spot, like the Giants are, then Hurts being “healthy” likely means that he would play at less than 100%. If that’s the case, there’s a good chance that Hurts’ shoulder won’t be 100% in the playoffs, either, especially if he takes another hard hit there.
It doesn’t take the website fivethirtyeight.com to figure out that the chances of that happening are greater without Johnson in the lineup.
Johnson is a Pro Bowl tackle who hasn’t allowed a sack in two years. He set an NFL record, according to Pro Football Focus, by going 928 pass plays without allowing one. That record fell on Dec. 18 against the Bears, so Johnson is probably close to 1,000 straight plays now.
It’s not like Johnson’s backups are terrible. They’re not. The Eagles are 13-2 this season in large part because they have the best − and deepest − offensive line in the NFL.
Jack Driscoll has filled in admirably for Johnson in the past. Driscoll started one game at left tackle in place of Jordan Mailata earlier this season, and he filled in for Johnson in the second half against the Giants on Dec. 11 when Johnson left with the same abdominal injury.
The Eagles could also put Andre Dillard at left tackle and move Mailata to right tackle. They did this for a game last season when Johnson missed time to deal with a mental health illness.
“Everything would be on the table,” Sirianni said. “Whatever we feel like is best. I love the fact that Jordan has some versatility, that he’s able to (play right tackle). I love the fact that Andre and Jack are really good backups, and we have a lot of faith in them to go out there and do their job.
“Obviously, we’re bummed about Lane in the sense of missing any time, but we’re also confident in the guys that we have on the roster.”
Either way, the Eagles’ offensive line isn’t as good without Johnson. That has been true ever since the Eagles made Johnson their first-round pick in 2013. The Eagles are 72-44-1 (.620) when Johnson plays, and just 12-20 (.375) when he doesn’t.
But there’s more to it than that.
Minshew has started 23 games in his career, and he proved that he is more than capable last Sunday against the Cowboys.
Dallas came into the game ranked third in passing defense, allowing 192 yards per game. Minshew threw for 355 yards, and the Eagles never punted. Yes, Minshew threw two interceptions, but so did Hurts the week before against the Bears.
“I thought Gardner really handled himself with a lot of poise,” Sirianni said, adding that Minshew’s good plays “far outweigh the ones that I was giving him corrections on.”
Of course, Minshew isn’t going to take off and run when he’s in trouble like Hurts does. But the Eagles do have a strong running game with Miles Sanders, who despite a costly fumble, had 65 yards on 21 carries, and has 1,175 yards rushing this season.
“It’s kind of the same, minus running,” Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith said about the game plan with Minshew in place of Hurts. “Passing the ball and things like that, (Minshew) has a different touch. But overall, the passing game is still the same.”
Added fellow wide receiver AJ Brown: “It was different because Jalen and Gardner are two different people. I think Gardner handled the situation perfectly.”
Sure, the Saints have a strong pass defense. They are second in the NFL, only to the Eagles, allowing 190.4 passing yards per game. But unlike the Cowboys, the Saints aren’t about to score 40 points like the Cowboys did. The Saints are averaging 13.5 points per game over their last four.
The Eagles are better than the Saints offensively, and that’s true with Minshew and whoever plays right tackle in place of Johnson.
And that’s why Mishew should keep playing.
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.