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Receiving yards for Cowboys’ Amari Cooper during Sunday’s 29-23 win over Eagles

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On October 28

The losses are piling up for the Eagles.

No, not in the standings. The Eagles enter Sunday’s game against the winless 49ers with the best record (6-1) in the NFL. The following Sunday they complete a three-game homestand against the offensively-challenged Broncos, meaning it’s fairly likely that the Eagles will enter their bye week with an 8-1 record. If that’s the case, they could go 3-4 the rest of the season and probably still win the NFC East title.

Where the losses are piling up is on the roster. The season-ending injuries to left tackle Jason Peters and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks could have a major impact. And this comes on the heels of the loss of special teams captain Chris Maragos to a season-ending injury the previous week and earlier season-ending injuries to Darren Sproles and Caleb Sturgis.

The special teams have survived their losses. Rookie kicker Jake Elliott, signed off the Bengals’ practice squad, might be even better than Sturgis. He certainly is better from long range. Bringing back Kenjon Barner has reduced the impact of Sproles’ absence. It’s too soon to gauge the effect of Maragos’ absence.

The offense, however, is likely to be affected by the loss of Peters. The only question is how much it will be affected.

Peters’ replacement at left tackle is Halapoulivaati Vaitai. There is no way Vaitai should be expected to perform as well as the nine-time Pro Bowler. If he can be a stable presence and do a decent job of protecting Carson Wentz’s blind side, that should be considered a success.

The danger is that teams will challenge Vaitai with their top pass rushers or blitz from that side, as the Panthers during the first half against the Eagles when Vaitai filled in for right tackle Lane Johnson, who missed the game due to a concussion. The Eagles tried to address the pass rush issues against the Panthers by keeping tight end Zach Ertz in more often to block. But that would remove Wentz’s favorite receiver from the mix far too often.

The nightmare scenario is that Wentz gets hurt by a blindside hit. That type of hit is far more likely to happen with Vaitai at left tackle than Peters.

Another problem created by Peters’ absence is that, with more than half the season remaining, the Eagles can’t afford another injury on the offensive line. If Johnson were to be injured, the starting tackles would be Vaitai and Isaac Seumalo. Even an injury along the interior line would have  ripple effect that could disrupt the cohesiveness and effectiveness of the offensive line.

Depth at linebacker is also an issue. With Hicks lost for the season, Najee Goode and Joe Walker will be counted upon to step into the void. The health of linebackers Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham also becomes an issue of paramount importance. Kendricks has a lengthy injury history, including a hamstring injury that kept him out of Monday night’s victory over the Redskins.

The Eagles have done a remarkable job thus far of dealing with injuries. Don’t forget that Fletcher Cox missed two games and that cornerback Ronald Darby still hasn’t played since dislocating his ankle during the first game of the season.

But there are only so many injuries a team can survive. Of the top six players on PhillyPhanatics.com’s preseason Top 10 list of the most indispensable Eagles, only the No. 1 player on that list, Carson Wentz, has not missed time due to injury. Johnson (No. 4) and Cox (No. 6) were short-term injuries. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles can maintain their high level of play without Nos. 3 (Hicks) and 5 (Peters) for the rest of this season.

But at this points it’s clear that the Eagles would be better able to withstand a loss on the field than another loss of a crucial player to injury.

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SUPER-MAN: One reason the Eagles have been able to withstand all of their injuries to key players is Carson Wentz. He is the biggest reason the Eagles are 6-1.

It’s frequently said that NFL games are determined by five key plays a game. One can easily find five key plays that Wentz made that affected the outcome of Monday’s 34-24 victory over the Redskins.

Let’s start with Wentz’s Houdini-like escape on third-and-long early the fourth quarter. If Wentz is sacked in that situation, the Redskins would have gained possession while only trailing by a touchdown. Instead, Wentz picks up the first down, the Eagles finish the drive for a touchdown and a 14-point lead.

Wentz, who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week, rushed for five first downs. You can’t imagine how much that deflates a defense.

Another tremendous play came at the end of the first drive of the second half. Wentz, while under pressure, somehow found Corey Clement along the right sideline in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown. This was a difficult throw for a quarterback not under any pressure. For Wentz to make that throw while being hit is incredible. If the Eagles settle for a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown at the end of that drive, their lead would have been 10 points instead of 14, and the Redskins’ subsequent touchdown would have pulled them within a field goal.

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HOLE IN RESUME: Jason Peters has been selected for the Pro Bowl nine times, but he has never won a playoff game. Never. Let’s hope that Peters is able to recover from his torn ACL and MCL so that he can return for a 15th season and possibly experience the postseason success that has eluded him.

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CHALLENGING STRETCH: If Penn State puts together an undefeated regular season, it will have earned it. The second-ranked Nittany Lions rose to the occasion last Saturday with a 42-13 triumph over 19th-ranked Michigan. This Saturday, the Nittany Lions visit sixth-ranked Ohio State. Next Saturday they visit Michigan State. That’s a very difficult stretch of games. If Penn State emerges from that stretch unscathed, even the haters will have to admit that the Nittany Lions deserve their lofty ranking.

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ASTROS MAKING STATEMENT: If the Astros win their first World Series – their first World Series victory in franchise history was Game 2 of this year’s World Series – they will have defeated three of the sport’s most hallowed franchises to accomplish it. The Astros defeated the Red Sox in the divisional round, the Yankees in the American League Championship Series and they’re facing the Dodgers in the World Series.

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WHAT A DIFFERENCE: In 2016, Charlie Morton pitched four games for the Phillies before suffering a season-ending injury. This season he is starting Game 4 of the World Series for the Astros. The Phillies must be wondering why Morton couldn’t have pitched as well for them last year.

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UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS: Matt Stairs, who made the transition from the broadcast booth to hitting coach for the Phillies, is headed to San Diego to join the Padres as their hitting coach.

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MANAGERIAL SEARCH: The Phillies are expected to name a new manager soon, but should they slow down so they can consider John Farrell and Joe Girardi? Farrell was fired by the Red Sox; Girardi was fired by the Yankees. That fact that both those teams made the playoffs this season, with the Yankees coming within one win of the World Series, tells you all you need to know about expectations within those organizations.

My suspicion, as it has been since the start of this process, is that the Phillies will hire someone who has not managed in the major leagues. The two people rumored to be the finalists, Class AAA Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan and Dodgers director of player development Gabe Kapler, both fit that description. I don’t think general manager Matt Klentak wants a manager who has had success elsewhere. I think he wants to hire someone who will follow instructions and do things the way he and management want things done. That would seem to eliminate Girardi, who spent 10 seasons with the Yankees, and probably Farrell as well.

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SAME OLD STORY: The Union, whose season ended Sunday with a meaningless 6-1 victory over Orlando City SC. The Union finished 10-4-3 at home. Their downfall was their 1-10-6 record on the road.

By the way, the Union have something in common with Jason Peters: they’ve never won a playoff game.

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HOOPS SEASON APPROACHES: Believe it or not, college basketball season is just around the corner. Villanova hosts Drexel in an exhibition game Wednesday – yes, this Wednesday! – at 8:30 p.m.

Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for 29 years, has more career playoff wins than Jason Peters and the Union combined.

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