The Eagles have seen their greatest enemy, and it is the blue medical tent.
Another critical performer is lost for multiple games after starting safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson’s went down during Sunday night’s 40-33 win over the Green Bay Packers.
#Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson is out indefinitely after suffering a lacerated kidney in Sunday night’s win over the #Packers, per sources.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) November 29, 2022
It’s a non-surgical injury. Testing is ongoing, so timetable still TBD, but it is not expected to be season-ending.
The addition of Gardner-Johnson late in the preseason was critical, shoring up a position of great need, the last on the defense in which there truly was a question mark. With CJGJ now out for an unknown extended period of time, the Birds’ depth at a position in which they were not strong will be tested even further.
Early returns on rookie Reed Blankenship, the player likely to acquire Gardner-Johnson’s snaps, were mixed. He hauled in a fantastic interception on his second snap, fooling Aaron Rodgers with a deke of which the most experienced safety would be proud.
He also tied for the team lead with six tackles Sunday night (T.J. Edwards), but was also caught out of position on Christian Watson’s 63-yard touchdown catch in the 4th quarter and committed a personal foul penalty, too. It will likely be this way with a young player who is taking over for an established veteran, the NFL leader in interceptions (6).
Gardner-Johnson’s injury is just the latest to befall a handful of experienced veterans being counted on to lead the Eagles down the stretch. Slot cornerback Avonte Maddox remains on injured reserve for at least one more game, eligible to return from his hamstring injury after this weekend’s tilt against the Titans. Josiah Scott has struggled in his absence, although Sunday night’s performance was better than his previous two.
Tight end Dallas Goedert’s shoulder injury was painfully felt against the Commanders and Colts, and there is no suitable replacement. Grant Calcaterra, Jack Stoll, and Tyree Jackson cannot be counted on to provide anything at the tight end position, requiring slot receiver Quez Watkins and the running game to play a more crucial role.
The Eagles had felt the absence of tackle Jordan Davis until these last two games, thanks to the additions of Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh. His addition, whenever that is, will scale back everyone’s snaps, which will be a nightmare scenario for interior offensive linemen. Still, Davis’ injury was a primary culprit in the Birds’ lone loss this season to Washington.
Thankfully, the Eagles avoided major disaster with right tackle Lane Johnson Sunday night.
Perhaps the NFL’s most important offensive lineman, Johnson’s foot mercifully did not stick into the Lincoln Financial Field grass and dirt and tear an ACL. There would be no good answer for an extended absence by Johnson.
Every team goes through injuries, and NFL general managers spend the off-season manipulating the salary cap in order to put the best group of starters on the field possible, but depth is also hugely important. The Eagles were remarkably healthy during their 9-0 start, but injuries are beginning to pile up. This week, it was a miracle wide receiver A.J. Brown was able to get on the field at all.
AJ Brown was so sick he lost 7 pounds and popped a blood vessel in his eye from puking so much pic.twitter.com/zxgsJgG57A— Crossing Broad (@CrossingBroad) November 28, 2022
Thanks to Jalen Hurts’ cheap rookie contract, Roseman has been able to field a team that is about as deep as any in the NFL, but it is impossible to be 3-4 starters deep at every position, and it just so happens the Eagles’ injuries are clustering and occurring at positions where the depth is weakest.
The Eagles have one of the best coaching staffs in the NFL, and it will be situations like this where they really earn their money.
Jonathan Gannon and his position coaches will have to coach up Blankenship, Scott and K’Von Wallace to make up for Gardner-Johnson’s absence during the stretch run. Sirianni and Shane Steichen must continue to get creative on offense until Goedert returns. And should the Eagles lose anyone else important over these next six weeks (chances are they will), younger players will likely need to step up.
Make no mistake, the timing stinks, but that’s life when you play a sport where 275-pound men crash into each other at high rates of speed dozens of times a game. Gardner-Johnson’s injury happened as he initiated the contact on Christian Watson. Players who play seeking to avoid injury are more likely to be injured, anyway.
The Birds have a huge match-up with the Titans in Tennessee this Sunday, two games coming against the Giants and a huge Christmas Eve battle with the Cowboys in Texas on the horizon. Ideally, they’d be at full strength for these match-ups, which may or may not determine if the Eagles get that No. 1 seed and all-important first round bye. But they won’t be.
When at full strength, the Eagles are better than the teams that remain on their schedule. It’s become clear injuries will be this team’s greatest obstacle to reaching the Super Bowl.