PHILADELPHIA -- As much as the people of Philadelphia want to celebrate the Monday night win over the Washington Redskins and the 6-1 start to the season -- and they are -- the losses of left tackle Jason Peters and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks have proved hard to ignore.
Peters suffered torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee. Hicks suffered a ruptured Achilles. Both will miss the remainder of the season. Critical components of the team's makeup to this point, their absence raises significant questions as the Eagles turn their attention to the nine remaining regular-season games.
Just how big are these losses?
Huge. Peters has built a Hall of Fame resume that includes nine Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro nods, and he was still playing at a high level at age 35. Some consider left tackle the most important position in football besides quarterback, largely because they're in charge of protecting the QB's blind side. Carson Wentz is playing at an MVP clip right now. In order to keep him healthy and playing confidently, the left tackle needs to do his job.
Not to be overly dramatic, but an injury like this can deliver a serious stomach blow to a team's season if the backup is unable to perform at a competent level. Otherwise, it impacts the running game, it impacts the quarterback's comfort level, which impacts the passing game, which impacts the overall performance of the offense, which puts more strain of the defense ... the ripple effect can be felt far and wide.
Hicks is a sound, disciplined player with a penchant for coming up with big plays. Just as important, he helps orchestrate the defense as the man in the middle, ensuring his teammates know the call and their responsibilities. When he went down Monday night, there was some discord initially, leading to big plays for the Redskins. Hicks is not a huge national name, but he has been a key, stabilizing force in Jim Schwartz's defense.
Who will replace them?
Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the second-year player out of TCU, took over at left tackle when Peters went down Monday and appeared to perform pretty well. The Eagles could swing standout right tackle Lane Johnson over to Peters' side. Johnson, though, made the case for staying put because all of the quality pass-rushers that will be lining up over his traditional side in the coming weeks.
Vaitai struggled at first when filling in for the suspended Johnson at right tackle in 2016, but he made some strides as the season went along. He has been up and down in his spot appearances this year.
The middle linebacker post could go to Najee Goode, a six-year vet who has appeared in 51 games for the Eagles. It looked like he missed an assignment on the Chris Thompson touchdown Monday after Hicks went down. Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham are both quality linebackers, but it makes sense to keep them at their outside posts. The Eagles could use some rapid development out of Joe Walker, the second-year player out of Oregon who missed last season with a torn ACL.
It should be noted the Eagles also spend a lot of time in their nickel package (they were in it 70 percent of the time last season), so a lot of the time they’ll be going with just two linebackers on the field. In those situations, Kendricks and Bradham could be paired together.
The front office also could explore the open market for an answer. The trade deadline is Oct. 31.
Can they overcome this?
One impressive thing about the Eagles to this point in the season has been their ability to adapt and overcome. They lost top corner Ronald Darby in the opener and were dealt another blow when running back Darren Sproles was lost for the season. Their best defensive player, Fletcher Cox, was out for two games. The list goes on.
The fact they didn't miss a beat speaks to the team's mentality, their depth and the kind of coaching they're getting right now. It also supports an old NFL adage: Elite quarterback play can mask a lot of deficiencies. Wentz has been lights out and has this team believing it can take on whatever lies in front of it.
That faith will be tested over the second half of the season, as the Eagles tackle a rather formidable remaining schedule (at the Seahawks, at the Rams, two games against Dallas, etc.) without two of their most essential players. They have proved capable of handling challenges to this point, but this is the biggest they've faced to date.