Mounting Injuries Test Eagles Defensive Depth
PHILADELPHIA – Injuries are a part of the game in the NFL. Do not look further than the Philadelphia Eagles defense for an example of that. Injuries are testing the depth of that unit and forcing rookies and backups to step in and play significant snaps.
At one point in the second half against the New York Giants, the Eagles were missing four opening day defensive starters. How long can the birds survive relying on backups to make the plays?
“We will find out,” Safety Malcolm Jenkins said after the dramatic 27-24 win over the Giants. “We are going to enjoy this win and try to get as many guys back as we can.”
It took injuries to Corners Ronald Darby and Jaylen Watkins to get rookie Rasul Douglas on the field. After a rough start to training camp, Douglas has improved week to week. He took over for Watkins last week in Kansas City and finished second on the team with four tackles. Douglas earned his first career start against the Giants and made it memorable by picking off Eli Manning.
“I definitely dreamed about it,” Douglas said with a smile. “It felt amazing. I promised myself I was going to get an interception today. I just kept trying to believe it.”
Douglas’ interception came on a deep ball down the sideline that he leaped and caught. He stayed step-for-step with Brandon Marshall. Douglas also recorded four tackles.
“The guys around me believe in me and I believe in myself,” Douglas said. “I am learning the plays.”
Some of the veterans have noticed Douglas’ improvement as the season has progressed.
“We got young guys like Rasul with the pick,” Linebacker Mychal Kendricks stated. “He has been playing good ball.”
“We are losing significant players, but the guys we brought in today played well,” Jenkins said. “Rasul Douglas had the pick and played very well.”
Douglas is not the only one who had to step in for an injured starter. Chris Maragos filled in for Rodney McLeod at Safety. Linebacker Jordan Hicks left the game early as did Defensive Tackle Fletcher Cox.
“Chris Maragos came into a starting role and played well,” Jenkins stated. “We had Nigel Bradham move positions. Mychal Kendricks made a big play for us.”
Kendricks tipped an Eli Manning pass high into the air that was intercepted by Patrick Robinson. Another backup, Linebacker Joe Walker was in the game on fourth and goal from the one-yard line and dropped Orleans Darkwa for a one-yard loss forcing a turnover on downs.
“We got guys that want to play,” Kendricks said with a smile. “Joe Walker came in and made a great play. He was ready. That was the type of play we needed and the kind of mentality we need for the upcoming games.”
Fletcher Cox left the game with a right calf injury. His absence was noticeable as the Giants began scoring after he had exited to the sideline. Cox left the locker room after the game with a noticeable limp in his right leg. It is unknown if he will be healthy enough to play Sunday in Los Angeles against the Chargers.
Despite losing four opening day starters and counting on numerous backups to help fill the void, the Eagles remain confident and ready to rely on whoever the next man up happens to be.
“We have to continue to get guys prepared and get them reps and build contingency plans,” Jenkins argued. “We will go back to work and watch the tape, see who we got and move forward.”
“It’s the next guy up,” Douglas said. “We believe in everybody. Even guys that are not playing and on the practice squad, we believe in them all.”
Thrust into a starting role, Douglas clearly understands the backup mentality after not even dressing for the season opener against the Redskins.
“When our number is called we are ready to play and that is how we practice,” Douglas stated. “When I was inactive I practiced like I was going to start against Washington. Knowing I wasn’t going to play, I practiced like I was going to start. Everyone has that same mindset.”
It is going to continue to take that same mindset to weather this injury storm. Depth is key in the NFL. A lack of it can kill a season. Having it, as the Eagles have experienced so far, can help save a season and keep postseason hopes alive.