PHILADELPHIA − The initial reaction was that the Eagles signed both veteran defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh because rookie Jordan Davis could be out longer than expected.
Davis is on injured reserve and eligible to come off as soon as Dec. 4 after missing the required four games. Davis injured his ankle against the Steelers on Oct. 30.
But what if Davis is able to return for that Dec. 4 game against Tennessee, or shortly thereafter?
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What does that say about the Eagles’ trust in Fletcher Cox? Or Milton Williams, the only defensive tackle on the active roster who’s under 29 years of age?
We already got a glimpse of that when Cox played 70 out of 83 snaps (84%) in the Eagles’ 32-21 loss to the Washington Commanders on Monday night. Neither Cox, nor defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, nor Eagles coach Nick Sirianni felt good about that.
After all, the Commanders rushed for 152 yards. And while that’s not just on Cox, he is 31 years old, and he had been playing better while playing fewer snaps this season.
“(The soreness) ain’t a good feeling, but you do whatever you need to do to win the game,” Cox said. “Obviously, 70 snaps is 70 snaps, right? I think if we win that game, nobody is worrying about snap counts. But at the same time, 70 snaps means you have to take care of your body and be ready to play a game on Sunday.”
Added Gannon: “When you ask these big guys to play that many snaps, it’s hard duty on everybody. So hopefully (Cox) will get his body ready to go for this week. But I don’t want to see that again.”
It’s clear that the long season is already taking a toll on Cox. He has three sacks this season, but none since Week 3. Opponents have averaged 160 yards rushing per game in the two games that Davis, the Eagles’ best run-stopper, has missed.
Davis has to miss at least two more games. So if Cox has to play more than 75% of the snaps for however long Davis is out, that’s not going to work out well.
So Joseph and Suh can work their way in, perhaps as soon as Sunday. It might not be too many snaps, but even a dozen between the two of them will reduce Cox’s workload. And as the weeks go on, and as Davis works his way back into the lineup, it will balance out more.
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Of course, that all depends on how willing Joseph and Suh are to take reduced roles.
Suh has started every game in his previous 12 seasons. In fact, he missed only two games in his career, and those were for on-field suspensions in 2011. Joseph has started all but nine of his 171 NFL games.
But Suh said it should work. He has known Cox for years, and he said Cox kept asking him to play for the Eagles. But that’s still a rotation that includes five players in Suh, Joseph, Cox, Javon Hargrave and Milton Williams. It’ll be six when Davis returns.
Clearly, Williams, the Eagles’ third-round pick in 2021, will be the odd man out.
But the others have to be satisfied with playing fewer than 50% of the snaps. Suh seemed to indicate that he’s willing, and he suggested that Cox is willing too by endorsing his and Joseph’s arrival.
“I think he understands – and I can’t speak for him – but obviously, I’m not here to take anyone’s position,” Suh said. “I’m here to support and be a supporting cast member at all levels. We’ve talked about it before in the past. We’d love to play with each other. We’ve had mutual coaches say, ‘Man, you guys would be a force playing together.’
“Hargrave is obviously a great player, and he’s got a great talent in him. I’d love to join that group.”
For now, however, the immediate focus is shoring up the Eagles’ run defense that has dropped to 20th in the NFL. And the Eagles are about to face Indianapolis’ Jonathan Taylor, who led the NFL in rushing yards last season and is coming off a game in which he had 147 yards rushing.
Suh and Joseph might not be that familiar with the Eagles’ defensive playbook just yet. But all it might take is for them to line up in the middle of the Eagles’ defensive line and stop Taylor when he comes through.
Or as pass rusher Haason Reddick put it: “We just grabbed two more big bodies to put in the middle. It’s going to help the team and take some reps off Fletch and Hargrave … It’s an excellent situation.”
Will Eagles bounce back vs. Colts?
As much as the focus has been on the Eagles’ run defense, there is another major issue that the Eagles have to overcome in order to beat the Colts: the absence of tight end Dallas Goedert.
Goedert is on IR with a shoulder injury. He was third on the team in receptions with 43 and second in receiving yards with 544. The next closest player is Quez Watkins with 12 catches for 193 yards.
“Dallas is a special player,” Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “You can pretty much do whatever you want with Dallas. Obviously, we throw him screens, we throw him verticals, we throw him intermediate routes.”
Unlike at defensive tackle, the Eagles didn’t sign anybody to replace Goedert, mainly because it would take several players. So for the screens, look to Miles Sanders or Kenny Gainswell. For the verticals, look to Watkins. For the intermediate routes, look to backup tight ends Jack Stoll and Grant Calcaterra.
And you might even see Jalen Hurts run the ball more, along with Sanders.
In other words, it could be a struggle for the Eagles. But if Hurts is a true MVP candidate, this is the time for him to prove it.
If he does, and the Eagles keep Taylor from dominating the game, Sirianni and the veteran Eagles will exact a measure of revenge for the Colts firing head coach Frank Reich less than two weeks ago.
Sirianni served as Reich’s offensive coordinator in Indianapolis for three seasons before getting the Eagles’ job. And a few veterans remain from 2016-17 when Reich was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator.
Who knows? Maybe Reich passed along a few tips to Sirianni this week. After all, he already put his $1.9 million Indianapolis home up for sale, as the Indianapolis Star reported. So it’s clear his loyalty isn’t necessarily with the Colts and new coach Jeff Saturday.
Score: Eagles 27, Colts 23.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.