One major storyline won’t have much juice when the Philadelphia Eagles face the New Orleans Saints on New Year’s Day. The Eagles still haven’t activated the practice window for C.J. Gardner-Johnson to come off injured reserve.
The Saints dealt Gardner-Johnson during training camp for an underwhelming return of draft capital because they feared he would walk in free agency after the 2022 season. All he’s done in Philadelphia is sit tied atop the NFL with six interceptions in four fewer games played than co-leader Tariq Woolen of the Seattle Seahawks.
Injury to Gardner-Johnson
The versatile defensive back has missed the last four games while dealing with a lacerated kidney.
He is a passionate player known for his trash talk and colorful personality. The unmistakable swagger led former Eagles linebacker and current sports radio host Ike Reese to laugh off the notion that Gardner-Johnson would miss a matchup against the team that didn’t think he was worth paying on a long-term contract. A few days later, the situation played out differently than expected.
The indicators point in the wrong direction. The fact that Gardner-Johnson wasn’t even in condition to practice speaks to the extent of what sounds like a gruesome injury.
“That’s (the lacerated kidney is) a little bit harder one to track, right, because you’ve got to go in there and see. You’ve got to get the cat scans and do everything you’ve got to do to see how everything is healing in there,” Nick Sirianni said on Monday.
Eagles Adjustments Without Gardner-Johnson
Avonte Maddox has now joined Gardner-Johnson in the training room with a toe injury that will keep him out indefinitely.
Gardner-Johnson, a former nickel corner, provides versatility in the Eagles secondary that would be even more valuable in the absence of Maddox. The defense’s desperate need for their starting safety provides another negative indicator of the severity of the lacerated kidney.
Dak Prescott lit up the Philadelphia secondary on Christmas Eve for 347 yards on 27/35 through the air. He completed a 52-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton on a third-and-30. Darius Slay and Josiah Scott scrambled in a devastating mix-up that became a major factor in the loss.
CeeDee Lamb also caught 10 passes for 120 yards, and he did a lot of the damage lining up in the slot.
With both starters out against the Saints, will Jonathan Gannon show enough creativity to minimize Scott’s responsibilities and put him in a situation to play a manageable role where he’s not exposed as the weak link of the Philadelphia defense?
It seems like a lofty task for a defensive coordinator who has come under fire for his lack of creativity at times this season.
The Eagles have Super Bowl aspirations. The only team in the history of the franchise that won a Super Bowl faced a seemingly insurmountable rash of injuries and came out on the other side as champions. It’s now up to this team to do the same.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke