Good morning. The Eagles practice at 12:20 p.m. today for their only full session leading up to Thursday's game against the New York Giants. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has an 11:40 a.m. news conference, offensive coordinator Mike Groh has a 2:20 p.m. news conference, and Carson Wentz will also speak to reporters after practice. The big story will be replacing injured running back Jay Ajayi.
This is the Early Birds newsletter, which will arrive in your inbox Monday through Friday for the rest of the season. If your friends haven't subscribed to Early Birds, it's free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
If it was tough waking up on Monday realizing the Eagles lost the day before, it didn't get better for Eagles fans on Tuesday morning knowing that Jay Ajayi is out for the season. Ajayi tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and now the Eagles are down one of their top offensive weapons.
For Ajayi, it's a devastating injury. He was a key part of the offense, and, in the final year of his contract, he was determined to play well and earn a big deal after this season.
For the Eagles, it's also devastating. Although they could have (and should have) run more, Ajayi was the centerpiece of their ground attack. He was a punishing runner who the team planned to rely on this season. Now, there's more uncertainty in the backfield. Corey Clement, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, and Josh Adams are the other running backs on the roster. Clement hasn't played the last two games because of a quadriceps injury. Sproles has only played one game because of a hamstring injury.
The Eagles like a committee approach, but they felt compelled to make a trade last year when their running backs were LeGarrette Blount, Smallwood, Clement, and Kenjon Barner. Howie Roseman could make a move again. I know fans want Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell, but there are hurdles to make that happen. There are other options, too. I'll explore further in the coming days once there's a better sense of the Eagles' plan and the health of their running backs. With a Thursday game, a move likely wouldn't be made until next week.
The Eagles didn't practice on Monday, but they had a walk-through. If they did practice, though, they would have missed key players.
Defensive end Derek Barnett (shoulder), linebacker Nate Gerry (ankle, knee), safety Corey Graham (hamstring), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (calf), and Sproles all would have been absent. Tackle Jason Peters (quadriceps), tackle Lane Johnson (ankle), cornerback Sidney Jones (ankle), and linebacker D.J. Alexander (quadriceps) would have been limited. Clement would have been a full participant, which is good news.
Barnett, Ngata, and Sproles all missed Sunday's game. Gerry and Graham were injured during the game. During a short week, it can be difficult for players to get back in action, so pay attention to their status in Tuesday's session.
What did the playing time distribution on Sunday reveal? Without Barnett and Ngata, the defensive line rotation needed to change. Brandon Graham (84 percent) and Michael Bennett (79 percent) took a majority of the snaps, and Chris Long took 47 percent of the snaps. It was mostly a three-man rotation, because Josh Sweat only played 13 percent of the snaps. The Eagles were undermanned at defensive tackle and relied on Destiny Vaeao to play 74 percent of the snaps. Treyvon Hester played 18 percent of the snaps in his first game on the active roster.
The Eagles made a switch at safety, where Avonte Maddox took every snap. He looks like the starting safety going forward for the Eagles.
On offense, the Eagles liked their two-tight end sets. Dallas Goedert played 59 percent of the offensive snaps. Jordan Matthews, who is firmly the No. 3 wide receiver, played 37 percent of the snaps. Ajayi and Smallwood split their snaps evenly, both playing 49 percent. Adams took one offensive snap, and that was a short-yardage carry.
Doug Pederson said the decision to bench Stefen Wisniewski for Isaac Seumalo was made for performance reasons. Wisniewski didn't think he was playing poorly and said he had other theories for why the move was made. He did not share those theories.
I don't know what those theories are, and I don't have a strong evidence for why they made the decision. It did occur to me that the two changes the Eagles made — left guard and safety — were veterans who might not be here next season. In both cases, the Eagles turned to unproven players who were drafted by this front office. The Eagles made Seumalo their second-highest pick after Wentz in 2016, handed him the job last year, and only benched him when it was obvious they needed to make a move. Avonte Maddox was the team's second-highest pick this season and didn't play safety before the Eagles made him their full-time safety last week.