PHILADELPHIA – No team has been spared from the COVID-19 situation that has turned the entire NFL upside down. On many teams, more than a dozen players have tested positive.
The Eagles have “only” had four, but three of them have come on the offensive line. The line, of course, has been the impetus for the Eagles’ prolific running attack this season.
That has been the case even with running back Miles Sanders not practicing all week with a quad injury, although he is expected to play Sunday against the Giants.
EAGLES-GIANTS PREVIEW:From COVID-depleted to talent-depleted, Eagles facing another team with bad QB situation
The Eagles did get left guard Landon Dickerson back on Friday after he missed the Eagles’ 27-17 win Tuesday night over the Washington Football Team. But backup tackles Andre Dillard and Le’Raven Clark are still on the list.
In addition, head coach Nick Sirianni has coached the last three days virtually from a hotel room after he tested positive on Wednesday. It’s not known yet if he’ll be able to coach Sunday.
If not, passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo will serve as the head coach while Shane Steichen will call the plays on offense.
But no matter who has been playing on the offensive line (more on that later); or at running back while Sanders has missed three previous games and Jordan Howard two; or at quarterback as Jalen Hurts missed a game with an ankle injury; the results have been the same.
The Eagles have had seven straight games with at least 175 yards rushing. That has never been accomplished in Eagles history. The last time it happened in the NFL was when the 1985 Chicago Bears did it behind Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton.
That’s why center Jason Kelce called this “probably the best rushing attack I’ve been a part of.”
“It’s tough to run the ball when teams know you’re going to run the ball,” Kelce added. “When you run the ball a lot, the lanes become smaller and teams really hone in on trying to stop it. It’s definitely a hard thing to do.”
Kelce has been a starter ever since he was drafted by the Eagles in the sixth round in 2011. He was selected to the Pro Bowl on Wednesday for the fifth time in his career.
He was on the 2013 team that led the NFL in rushing, averaging 160 yards per game, as well as the 2017 Super Bowl team that dominated opponents behind running backs LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, who was acquired in a trade midway through the season.
The Eagles currently lead the NFL with an average of 165.6 yards per game. But there’s a chance they won’t have anyone rush for 1,000 yards. The closest is Hurts, who has 733 yards rushing. He would need to average 89 yards per game over the final three games to get there.
That, plus the adjustments due to injury and COVID-19, makes what the Eagles have done this season all the more remarkable.
Last season, the Eagles set an NFL record with 14 different line combinations in 16 games.
This season, the Eagles have used seven different combinations in 14 games. But that’s deceiving. Their top two guards – left guard Isaac Seumalo and right guard Brandon Brooks – haven’t played since Week 3.
They have used four right guards this season as Nate Herbig has started there the last two games, and three left guards as Sua Opeta replaced Dickerson last week.
“We’ve been there before, with the whole (situation) last year,” left tackle Jordan Mailata said about changes along the offensive line. “So for us, we just know the way we prepare to be ready, the next man up. That’s our mantra in that room as well.
“I think (the coaches) do a great job of preparing everybody. In Sua’s case, Sua stays prepared all year long. That dude is jacked and ready to go. He’s a hungry dog.”
And yet, Kelce was the only offensive player selected to the Pro Bowl, although Hurts admitted that he’s an alternate. But Mailata and right tackle Lane Johnson are not.
“I haven’t really given much thought to the Pro Bowl snub,” Mailata said. “I care more for Lane. I think Lane is one of the best tackles in this game. I know for me, if I look at myself in the mirror, I know that I have a long way to go before I make those Pro Bowls. There’s so much stuff that I need to clean up from my tape.”
Mailata, meanwhile, missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with an ankle injury. He was asked if he’s going to play Sunday.
“Of course, mate,” he said with a laugh. “That’s a ridiculous question.”
He might not have a choice. With Dillard and Clark on the COVID-19 list, the only other tackle on the 53-man roster is Brett Toth.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.