Injuries are a part of the game, the Eagles are no strangers to them. Up to this point, the team remained relatively healthy — but that was only going to last for so long.
In Sunday’s loss to San Francisco, defensive leader Brandon Graham ruptured his Achilles and is now out for the year. On the other side of the ball, Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks strained his right pectoral and will be placed on IR, so he’ll be back in about a month or so if his recovery goes well.
There’s no other way to spin it, this sucks. For both Graham and Brooks individually, as well as the entire team. Luckily, the Eagles are deep along the lines, so they may have in-house replacements who are able to step up, but that’s no guarantee.
Let’s start on offense with Brooks. While replacing him in the lineup is a bit more straight forward than replacing Graham, finding a guard who’s capable of playing up to Brooks’ ability is damn near impossible.
Nick Sirianni opted to go with rookie second-round pick Landon Dickerson at right guard once Brooks went down. He struggled in his NFL debut, giving up four pressures on 20 pass blocking snaps and he finished the day with a 4.2 pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. Yes, 4.2.
It would be silly for us to judge the second-rounder based on this performance, though. He was thrust into action at a position that he wasn’t even drafted to play. He had only started practicing the week prior to the game and hadn’t run any first-team reps with the starting line.
With a full week of preparation, Dickerson should be in a much better position to succeed next Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys. But the team could also turn to Nate Herbig if they don’t feel comfortable starting Dickerson. Sirianni didn’t rule out that possibility when speaking with the media on Monday.
Obviously, everything’s a discussion. We watched the tape this morning and now we’re in the early game-plan part — before the players come in tomorrow — on Dallas. Nothing final there. I don’t want to say ‘Hey, it’s going to be Landon’ or ‘Hey, it’s going to be Nate’ one way or the other right now. Because we’re not there yet, to be perfectly honest with you.”
Either way, both Herbig and Dickerson are well suited to step in for a few weeks while Brooks recovers. Dickerson has a higher ceiling and is clearly in the team’s long-term plans, so getting him some exposure before asking him to be a full-time starter next year or the year after may be the way to go here.
Simply put, you can’t replace Graham’s leadership on the field. He’s the vocal leader of the team, you could just tell how deflated the defense got once he left the field and went to the locker room. He’ll still be on the sidelines I’m sure, but it won’t be the same.
Nevertheless, replacing him physically shouldn’t be nearly as difficult. The ideal candidate is Josh Sweat, who just signed a three-year extension one day before the team’s Week 2 matchup. Oddly enough, his playing time dipped against San Fran. Sweat only played 28 defensive snaps, while both Derek Barnett and Ryan Kerrigan played 45 and 32, respectively.
It appears that Jonathan Gannon and the rest of the defensive coaching staff prefers Barnett on the left side as opposed to Sweat. Sweat played 11 of his 28 snaps from the left side, while Barnett played 20 of his 45 snaps on the left.
Expect Sweat to get the start at right end with Barnett anchoring the left side in Graham’s absence. Kerrigan has been the second left end on the depth chart since camp, but he’s more suited as a rotational guy at this point in his career. Plus, he hasn’t done much of anything through two weeks of play. In 67 defensive snaps, Kerrigan hasn’t recorded a single tackle, quarterback hurry, quarterback knockdown, quarterback pressure, or sack. That has to change moving forward.
This defensive end rotation is pivotal for Gannon’s defense. Finding a way to mitigate Graham’s absence won’t be easy, but the team has at least three guys they can count on for meaningful snaps.
Should Howie test the free agent market?
The Eagles have enough cap room to go out and sign a veteran to help replace either Brooks or Graham, but that feels like a last resort scenario right now. At guard and defensive end the team has some young talent that deserves to get a shot, and Howie probably wants to see what he has before scouring the free agent market for a veteran.
There aren’t any clear-cut options to pick up at either position in free agency, either. Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro is on the market, but he just had ankle surgery over the summer and it was reported that he was considering retirement. At defensive end, Olivier Vernon, Trent Murphy, and Josh Simon are all available, but they’re all on the wrong side of 30 and have dealt with injuries in recent years.
I wouldn’t expect Roseman to make any additions this week. It’ll take a pretty abysmal performance by either Graham’s or Brooks’ replacements for the front office to look outside the organization for help.
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