Even after the loss to the Dallas Cowboys, there’s no reason to bring Jalen Hurts back before the playoffs as 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 therefore the first-round bye that goes with it – and those chances are far off (see below) .
If anything, the Eagles should double up on resting Hurts through the playoffs now that Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson is set 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 manager Nick Sirianni did not confirm on Monday, but he had this to say about Johnson’s missed games: “It’s kind of like that.”
Sirianni also didn’t 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 prepare his body,” he said. “With Jalen, it’s just that his body heals differently than yours and mine. He’s going to do whatever he can to be healthy.
“If he is healthy, he will play.”
The Eagles can clinch the NFC East and the No. 1 seed in the NFC Playoffs with a win over the Saints or Giants on Jan. 8.
The website fivethirtyeight.com lists the Eagles’ odds of winning the division at 97% and the first seed at 95%, and that’s after the 40-34 loss to Dallas on Saturday.
So it really comes down to degrees of injury being “healthy”.
The best remedy for Hurts shoulder is rest and rehabilitation. If Hurts sits out the rest of the regular season, he will have five weeks off 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, as the Giants are, then Hurts being “healthy” probably means he’d be playing less than 100%. If so, chances are Hurts’ shoulder won’t be 100 percent in the playoffs either, especially if he takes another blow there.
Don’t let the fivethirtyeight.com website realize that the odds of this 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 completing 928 passes without allowing one. That record fell Dec. 18 against the Bears, so Johnson is likely close to 1,000 straight plays now.
It’s not like Johnson’s saves were terrible. They are not. The Eagles are 13-2 this season largely because they have the best and deepest offensive line in the NFL.
Jack Driscoll has replaced Johnson admirably in the past. Driscoll started a game at left tackle in place of Jordan Mailata earlier this season, and he replaced 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 for one game last season when Johnson ran out of time to deal with mental illness.
“Everything would be on the table,” Sirianni said. “Everything we feel is the best. I like that Jordan has some versatility, that he’s able to (play the right tackle). I like that Andre and Jack are very good substitutes , and we have a lot of faith in them to go out there and do their job.
“Obviously we’re disappointed with Lane in the sense of missing out anytime, but we’re also confident in the guys we have on the roster.”
Either way, the Eagles offensive line isn’t as good without Johnson. That’s 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’s playing. do not play.
But there is more than that.
Minshew started 23 games in his career and proved he was more than capable last Sunday against the Cowboys.
Dallas entered the game ranked third in pass defense, giving up 192 yards per game. Minshew threw for 355 yards and the Eagles never punted. Yes, Minshew threw two interceptions, but Hurts also the week before against the Bears.
“I think Gardner really carried himself with a lot of composure,” Sirianni said, adding that Minshew’s good plays “far outweigh the ones 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 have a good running game with Miles Sanders, who despite a costly fumble, had 65 yards on 21 carries and 1,175 rushing yards this season.
“It’s kind of the same minus the run,” Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith said of 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.”
Receiver AJ Brown added, “It was different because Jalen and Gardner are two different people. I think Gardner handled it perfectly.”
Of course, the Saints have a solid pass defense. They are second in the NFL, only behind the Eagles, in passing 190.4 yards per game. But unlike the Cowboys, the Saints aren’t on the verge of scoring 40 points like the Cowboys did. The Saints are averaging 13.5 points per game over their last four games.
The Eagles are better than the Saints offensively, and that’s true with Minshew and whoever plays the right tackle in place of Johnson.
And that’s why Mishew should keep playing.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow @Mfranknfl on Twitter.
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