Good morning, Eagles fans. I'm writing this hours after the Eagles' 34-24 win over the Washington Redskins to improve to 6-1 for their best start to a season since 2004. If you remember, the Eagles made the Super Bowl that year. This is Early Birds, the newsletter breaking down the Eagles. It's free to sign up here to receive in your inbox every weekday. 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
It was a "bittersweet" winning locker room, as Eagles coach Doug Pederson called it, when Monday turned into Tuesday. The Eagles celebrated their NFL-best sixth win of the season, but injuries to Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks stung a team that has already had its share of notable absences this season.
If you wrote down the key leaders on the team before the season, Peters, Hicks, Darren Sproles, and Chris Maragos would be high on the list. All are out for the season or potentially for a significant period of time. Add in games without Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Rodney McLeod, Ronald Darby, Mychal Kendricks, and Wendell Smallwood, and it's remarkable that the Eagles are 6-1.
The biggest reason is Carson Wentz, who must continue the magic to overcome more substantial losses.
I've written in this space before that the Eagles believe with Wentz at quarterback, they'll always have a chance. He showed it again Monday night. He's in that class of quarterbacks. But if you take away a future Hall of Famer at left tackle, the pass rush can come a blink sooner. Take away the starting middle linebacker, and the NFL's top-ranked run defense could take a hit.
You can applaud the depth elsewhere for stepping into bigger roles, the coaches for finding ways to make the scheme work. But the quarterback is often the difference. It's the reason the New England Patriots have won Super Bowls despite major injuries and the Green Bay Packers have been one of the NFL's best teams, even when some of their top players go down. An elite quarterback can cover up so much, and that s the door Wentz is knocking on now.
It's believed that Hicks has a torn Achilles tendon, which would end his season. More tests are required for Peters, but the early word is an MCL injury. Considering how severe it looked when it happened, that's better news than you might have expected this morning. Pederson might have more information at his noon press conference.
Zach Berman: You stepped in on defense and took on a big role (77 percent of the defensive snaps). How do you think you played?
Najee Goode: "I did alright. I've got some things that I definitely have to correct. I'm always going to be my worst judge. But when we needed to step up and make plays, I was able to do that. That's something that a lot of people want to see, and our coaches definitely want to see that. I've got to keep doing it, no matter what."
Zach Berman: You're known as a special teams player, but with Jordan Hicks down, you could have a bigger defensive role. Are you ready for that?
Najee Goode: "Oh yeah, 100 percent. Actually, last time I started was against the Washington Redskins. It was like karma. But I've always been ready. Just go and prove what I can do — coming all the way from the preseason, going against Miami, to coming in against New York to last week and this week. We'll look at the film, get on to [play against] San Fran, and go out and make plays. … Really, just playing my game. I'm known as a special teamer because of my speed and size and athleticism. I have to use that to my advantage."
Zach Berman: On Chris Thompson's touchdown catch, what happened?
Najee Goode: "I put that all on me. I didn't get out there to cover him. They ran a pick route and were able to get me. We were able to come back and get it corrected. But I'm a man of my word. I put it on me. We were able to step up and make plays and keep it going."
Torrey Smith still fills an important role, even if his statistics aren't especially impressive (14 catches, 210 yards, one touchdown). He stretches the defense. Each week, when you go back and watch the game, you see how he can get open downfield. So I wouldn't demote Smith. But it's fair to expect Mack Hollins to get more snaps. The Eagles are bullish on Hollins, who projects as a future starter in Philadelphia. It could happen as soon as next season. Hollins took eight snaps, which amounted to 12 percent on offense. Smith took 41, which was 63 percent of the snaps. I think you'll continue to see Hollins' percentage creep toward 20-25 or so. He entered the game with 15 percent of the offensive snaps.
I don't think the depth at linebacker is a strength for the Eagles. Najee Goode and Kamu Grugier-Hill are on the team mostly for special teams purposes. Joe Walker is a big drop-off from Jordan Hicks in the middle. Nate Gerry is still learning the position. But the Eagles spend most of their time in the nickel, and they can definitely survive with Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks there. Bradham's role changes because he takes Hicks' spot, but as long as those two are on the field, the Eagles should be fine. If Kendricks can't stay healthy or if Bradham goes down, the conversation changes. They would need those reserves to prove they can step in effectively.
They'll consider moving Lane Johnson to left tackle, but I'm not sure they do. The difference between left tackle and right tackle can be overstated in today's NFL. Some of the top rushers are coming from Johnson's edge.
"You got DeMarcus Lawrence, who's leading the league in sacks. You got Von Miller," Johnson said, and he also could have could have mentioned Khalil Mack. "It's pretty tough on the right side, as well. So there's really no place to hide."