- With the Eagles’ nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle out for the season, things suddenly look less rosy in Philadelphia. Doug Pederson, Carson Wentz and crew will have to get creative in adapting to their new reality
The lengthy injury cart procession early in the third quarter of Monday’s win over Washington helped prepare the Eagles mentally for Tuesday morning’s news that nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters suffered both a torn MCL and ACL in his right knee, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. He will not return this season.
But preparing for the practical, on-field implications may be more difficult. This injury is perhaps the only thing that could slow down the NFC’s best team.
On the Eagles’ first critical third down following Peters’ exit, Washington swapped pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan over Peters’ replacement, 24-year-old Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and the Eagles ran a zone read run out of the shotgun to the opposite side. Thankfully for Philadelphia, the defensive end on the right side collapsed on the run, allowing Carson Wentz to pocket the ball and scamper for a first down.
On the first designed run to Halapoulivaati’s side, the 2016 fifth-round pick was tossed to the ground by Washington pass rusher Junior Galette, leading to a busted play for LeGarrette Blount and a loss of seven yards. The next play, a third-and-16, Philly went to the obvious: a screen pass that invited in the pressure, which would inevitably come.
Wentz entered his name into the MVP discussion on Monday thanks to a series of herculean moments. His 17-yard fourth quarter scramble—a play where Wentz emerged unscathed from a rugby pile forming deep in his own territory—saw the entire left side of the Eagles offensive line on their collective backsides for the stunning escape. This was a glimpse of Wentz at his best, but that cannot be expected week in and week out. Peters, like right tackle Lane Johnson, provided a sense of calm in the backfield; a mental backbone on which all of this confidence is anchored. Last year Wentz and the Eagles lost just one game when Johnson played. (He was suspended 10 games for a repeat violation of the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse.) Without Johnson on the right side, Wentz threw just six touchdowns and 12 interceptions, and his passer rating was 70.2. With Johnson, his rating was 96.6, with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Consider that in both of coach Doug Pederson’s seasons with the Eagles, the team has led the league in time of possession. The anti-Chip Kelly regime brought in Blount this offseason to help them sustain heavy-hitting drives and close out football games. Peters, who reminds me almost of an offensive Vince Wilfork (his athleticism for his a size and shape is simply remarkable) was the linchpin of this philosophy. According to NFL Game Stats & Information, the Eagles have run more plays off the left hip of the left tackle than any other team in football. On those plays, the Eagles have gained 4.45 yards per carry.
A player who provides this kind of lift earns the type of teamwide (and stadiumwide) acknowledgement that Peters received on Monday night. Such a player is also extremely difficult to replace mid-season. A pair of 2008 first-round picks, Branden Albert and Ryan Clady, are still on the market. Albert recently worked out for both the Giants and Seahawks while Clady formally announced his retirement in August. In his goodbye letter, he mentioned “several teams” interested in signing him and called the decision difficult. Would either be worth a quick phone call?
That’s the short term for the Eagles. The hope, long-term, is that we did not see the last of the 35-year-old future Hall of Famer.
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