COVID concerns, injuries overshadow Washington-Eagles game

Jalen Hurts or Gardner Minshew? At least Washington has narrowed Philadelphia’s starting quarterback to two players. The Eagles won’t know who they’re facing at several positions, including QB.

By the end of the week, Washington’s COVID-19 outbreak grew to 23 players and led to the game being pushed back to Tuesday night.

“They tell us where to play and when to play and we’ll play there,” Philadelphia coach Nick Sirianni said Friday.

The Eagles (6-7) host Washington (6-7) with the teams battling for a wild-card spot in the jumbled NFC. The matchup between two resurgent teams has been overshadowed by player availability.

“Well, you take every able body you have,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “They’re all getting opportunities to practice. They’re getting opportunities in meetings and walkthroughs to make sure they’re being brought up to speed on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

The Eagles have to spend extra time preparing for backups and others Washington may have to use.

“Obviously, we know if a guy is not vaccinated, then he’s got to wait longer than another guy,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “You just don’t know when a guy is going to get back, so we’re going to prepare. … it just puts you in a little more (difficult) situation.”

Washington is one of several teams around the league dealing with a rising number of players on the COVID-19 list. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke joined defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, cornerback Kendall Fuller, and safety Kamren Curl as starters in protocol. Backup QB Kyle Allen was also on the list, though the postponement means he or Heinicke could be available.

If many of Washington’s top contributors can’t play, that compounds what already was an injury-depleted roster and the team could end up being without nearly half of its Week 1 starters.

“We were in meetings and one of the guys told me that somebody else had it. … It’s like, ‘Oh, here’s another one.’ And then: ‘There’s another one,’” said right guard Brandon Scherff, who noted he took some practice reps at center, a position he has never played at any level. “We knew that it was a possibility for us. With COVID, you know how fast it can spread.”

The Eagles are coming off a bye that followed a victory over the New York Jets led by Minshew, who filled in because Hurts has an ankle injury. Minshew and Hurts were expected to split snaps this week.

“It’s been a day-by-day thing,” Hurts said. “I’m doing everything in my power to make myself available for the team.”

NEXT, NEXT, NEXT MAN UP?

If Heinicke and Allen are out, Kyle Shurmur would be in line to go from the practice squad to making his first NFL start.

“If the opportunity presents itself, I’m excited,” said Shurmur, who played at Vanderbilt and went undrafted in 2019. “I’ve worked hard all year despite not playing. I’ve practiced hard, prepared every week as if I’m going to play and just kind of went from there.”

Shurmur said he takes pride in “knowing the system, operating at a high level and taking command of the offense.”

But Rivera didn’t identify a starting QB, and Washington also signed Garrett Gilbert off New England’s practice squad to be another option. Gilbert is familiar with Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner from their time together with the Carolina Panthers in 2018.

WORK THE CLOCK

Washington won four straight before losing to Dallas, thanks to a solid defense — allowing just 17.5 points per game during that stretch — and an offense reliant on a stout running game led by second-year back Antonio Gibson. The second half of the formula fell apart against Dallas, though: Gibson gained 89.5 yards on the ground per outing during the previous four games but dropped to 36 yards on just 10 carries last week.

“The more we can rely on the run game,” Scherff said, “the easier it gets for everybody.”

Part of the issue: Gibson fumbled against Dallas, his sixth this season, and didn’t get another touch the rest of the way. His performance could be key against the Eagles, because when Gibson succeeds, it lessens the focus on Heinicke.

“Most times, when guys are going to the ground, they’re really bracing for the impact of hitting the ground, as opposed to protecting the ball. And it kind of looks a little bit like that,” Rivera said, “because a lot of his problems do seem to come when he is headed down. And so we’ll just continue to work it.”

COMMITTED TO THE RUN

The Eagles are the first team to rush for at least 175 yards in six straight games since the Chicago Bears did it in seven consecutive games in 1985. Since turning to the run, the Eagles are 4-2. Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott have each contributed and Hurts is the team’s leading rusher.

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AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich and Stephen Whyno contributed.

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