Week 7 is rather early in the season for a bye and they lost most of their momentum that they gained from their week 6 win against a now struggling Washington team. But the bye gave a battered and banged up Eagles squad a chance to rest and get ready for the finish of the season. When the team returned to practice yesterday, two former pro bowlers and two of the team’s most important players returned as well. Defensive End Trent Cole and Left Tackle Jason Peters both returned to practice and are expected to return on Sunday night after they missed the previous two games with a injuries.
In the Eagles week 4 loss to the 49ers, Trent Cole suffered a grade 2 strain to his calf and was originally expected to miss about 3 weeks. Yesterday he practiced without any limitations and is expected to play this week. The impact that Trent Cole has on the Eagles defensive cannot be measured by looking at his stat line. He is the type of player whose impact on the game goes well beyond the box score. He has the reputation for being one of the most disruptive and complete defensive end in the game and is usually subject to double teams from his opponents.
Despite the constant attention he receives, he has had 22.5 sacks during the previous 2 seasons and had a sack in each of the team’s first 3 games. A telling measure for his impact is looking at the performance of his partner in crime left end Jason Babin. Cole’s reputation allowed the 2010 Pro Bowl selection to have one on one matchups and he defiantly took advantage. Through the 1st 4 games of the season Babin recorded 7 sacks. During the 2 games that Cole has missed, the double teams have switched to the left side of the defense and have held Babin sackless over the last 2 games.
In addition to Cole, the Eagles will also get back one of the best left tackles in the game Jason Peters back from hamstring injury. Peters has received his fair share of criticism during his time in Philly but there is no doubt that he can be one of the most dominate and physically imposing lineman in the game. You tend to forget how good he actually is until you see King Dunlap trying to hold down the left side. Todd Herremans did a fine job filling in for Peters and Dunlap in an emergency start at left tackle in week 6 but Peters presence instantly makes the offensive line a lot better. Sunday could be the first game of the season that the Eagles will put their top 5 lineman on the field together as Peters will play with 1st round pick Danny Watkins for the first time on Sunday. A line of Peters, Mathis, Kelce, Watkins and Herremans isn’t a stone wall but it should provide Vick with his best protection of the season.
The Eagles defense could get another player back on Sunday if Brandon Graham impresses the coaches enough during practice. He practiced for the 1st time since tearing his ACL and having microfracture surgery last season. The 13th pick in the 2010 draft had 3 sacks during his 1st 13 games before suffering the season ending injury. Yesterday before practice Graham seemed excited to be back when he posted this on his twitter page.
“Good morning people!! I’m so happy to be back practicing.” (@BGraham54)
Prior to the season Graham was placed on the Physical Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Players on the PUP are ineligible for the team’s first 6 games. They are then able to return to practice and the team has 3 weeks to either activate the player to the 53 man roster or place him on IR which would end the player’s season. A healthy Graham would give Jim Washburn and Juan Castillo a scary list of pass rushers. Former Pro Bowlers Cole and Babin in addition to Parker, Tapp and Graham could be a nightmare for opposing teams. But his knee injury was very serious and there is doubt that he will ever have the same explosion he had during his days at Michigan. Graham has been optimistic about his return to the team and has stated that he will play Sunday night. But the Eagles have been a lot more pessimistic on the situation and have said they will see how he looks before they make future plans. Personally I would be surprised to see the Eagles rush him back to the field. They have 4 very capable pass rushers, so they are afforded the luxury of making sure he is healthy before they have to activate him to the 53 man roster.
Cole and Peters where two of the three active players who missed their Week 6 matchup with the Redskins. King Dunlap was the 3rd player and he returned to practice yesterday as well. Obviously we hope he won’t be forced into action on Sunday but his health gives the team some better options if there is an injury. Right now it looks like the Birds will have their full complement of their 53 man roster for the 1st time this season. This may be the 4th straight “must win” for the Eagles but this game could be a make or break kind of game for the 2011 Eagles. A win puts them at 3-4 and right back in the middle of the NFC East race but a loss drops them to 2-5 and would force them to be nearly perfect over the last 9 weeks to win the division.