Next man up: depth shines as injuries mount for Eagles

By: Jesse Larch, Sports Talk Philly Editor 

The Eagles were extremely lucky to make it out of preseason with perfect health, but that good fortune has weared away as the toll of the regular season has claimed the good health of a few key players after just three weeks. 

In week one the Eagles lost top cornerback Ronald Darby to a dislocated ankle that looked so bad live that a six week recovery was the best case scenario. They also lost kicker Caleb Sturgis to a strained quadricep

In week two, three Eagles' safeties were claimed by the injury bug when Rodney McLeod Jr., Corey Graham, and Jaylen Watkins all were injured with hamstring pulls. 

In week three, the Eagles lost Darren Sproles for the season when he tore his ACL and broke his arm on the same play, and lost Fletcher Cox and Jordan Hicks for the afternoon with injuries that are now labeled as day-to-day. 

With a decimated secondary, an all-pro missing from the defensive line, arguably the best coverage linebacker absent against a two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback, and a special teams ace filling in at safety the odds were not in the Eagles' favor this week – no matter how bad the Giants have looked this season. 

So often we hear the term "next man up" in sports, but really it is a term meant to be received with a double meaning. Yes, the only plausible thing to do is send the next man in, but when you say "next man up" you are acknowledging that you have lost something. It is an attempt at remaining positive and focused when you are about to navigate through a huge blow to your team. 

Navigate is exactly what the Eagles did this past Sunday, and the players being asked to hold their own exceeded expectations. 

With Darren Sproles out, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement stepped up in a big way picking up 93 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries between the two of them for an impressive 5.1 yards per carry. 

Without Fletcher Cox the Eagles defensive line continued to stifle the Giants running game all day long. Without Jordan Hicks Joe Walker filled in admirably, including diving over the pile to meet Orleans Darkwa in the air, stopping him on a fourth and goal opportunity that would have tied that game right before halftime. 

Rasul Douglas in his first career start highpointed a ball on Brandon Marshall for a his first career interception. Chris Maragos provided solid play at safety for a player who is only expected to go on the field in special teams situations, and Jalen Mills was impressive filling in for Ronald Darby as the top cornerback against Odell Beckham Jr. Mills was targeted 21 times, the most of any player in the past 12 seasons, and he did not allow a catch of more than 14 yards, limiting the Giants offense all day long. 

Then there were the heroics of Jake Elliot to give the team the win. Caleb Sturgis's injury seemed like a huge blow in week one. Sturgis is one of the most accurate kickers in Eagles history with the second highest success rate of kickers with more than 50 attempts in an Eagles uniform. Elliot was 3-for-5 in his young career when he stepped on the field to attempt a 61-yard field goal to give the Eagles the victory. If you do not know what happened next, then I can only assume you have been under a rock, as Elliot connected on the longest field goal in team history as the clock wound down to zero and sent the stadium – and city – into a frenzy. 

The only way Elliot was able to get into that position is by the work of the unsung heroes who filled in for the multitude of injured players that the Eagles were playing without on Sunday afternoon. 

The Eagles did not just lose one player who is replaceable – they lost their top player at four different positions, and were without six players on the defensive side of the ball. The win this week was thought of as a guarantee, but it was actually an extremely unlikely outcome considering the hurdles that the Eagles climbed over to steal the victory. 

The Eagles won a gritty division game with a lot of backups in the game. This game told us about the identity of this Eagles' team. It is a team that will scratch and claw to reach their goals. It is a team who does not get discouraged. When they say "next man up" it is not a false sense of security as it is in so many instances; it is an endorsement of the player entering the game.

The Eagles never faltered when their defense was turned on its head. They did not get discouraged when they gave up 21 quick points. It was next man up, and those players coming in to relieve the injured players made a statement throughout the game. From Douglas's interception, to Walker's goalline stand, to Elliot's historic kick, the next men up are as much a reason as the win this week as any other player on the roster. For once the Eagles have real depth, and it was on display last Sunday.

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