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  • Al Thompson

ERTZ OUT FOR GIANTS GAME, HOWARD BACK...EAGLES LEADERS LOOK TO STEP UP IN DIVISION TITLE GAME

The Eagles are trying their best to put the best team possible on the field when the Birds take on the New York Giants this Sunday (4:25 PM FOX).


Win the game and the Eagles (8-7) are NFC East Champions and enter the playoffs as the No. 4 seed. The Eagles can also win the division with a tie against the Giants, or a Dallas Cowboys (7-8) loss or tie in their season finale at home against the Washington Redskins (3-12) (FOX 4:25)

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz will likely be trying to win the NFC East with Halapoulivaati Vaitai (72) playing right tackle in place of injured Lane Johnson. Vaitai played well against the Cowboys. Photo by Andy Lewis

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On offense it won’t be easy. The Eagles are dealing with issues at every position except quarterback, which is a bit ironic since the quarterback position was the No. 1 problem, injury-wise, over the last two seasons.


Carson Wentz says he is thrilled to be playing at the end of the season for the first time since his rookie season.


“I’m just thankful,” Wentz said. “The last two years I’ve been out at this point. To feel the way I do, to still be out here with the guys, Week 17, It’s a blessing that I don’t take for granted.”


But the Birds will be taking on a Giants (4-11) team that has won two straight games (Miami, Washington) and saw their franchise running back, Saquon Barkley, set a team single-game record last week against the Redskins with 279 total yards.


Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones also had a standout day last week throwing for 352 yards, five touchdown passes and no interceptions.


Head coach Doug Pederson was asked if their performances helps him prepare his players for the task at hand…just looking at film of these guys helps pinpoint his message.


“I think that's accurate,” Pederson said at Friday press conference. “Like I said, you just put the film on these last couple of weeks with this team, and really go back all the way to our game, that first half of football, I know Eli (Manning) played, but they were executing and playing well.


“It's something you have to prepare for, especially teams that are in their situation and really are,” Pederson continued. “They can play spoiler just a little bit. That's what you have to guard against. That's why we have to be prepared for everything. I challenged the coaching staff to make sure our players are on point with everything and dialed in on the game plan, because for us this is a playoff game and we have to treat it that way. And so for me, the messaging has to be that direct and it has to be that pinpointed.”


The Eagles lost cornerback Ronald Darby for the season last week and linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill the week before.


That’s bad for sure. But the Birds will be without the services if Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz for the Giants game. Ertz was hurt on the Eagles first drive when Wentz hit him high and over the middle at the Cowboys 24-yard line.


Ertz was legally clobbered by safety Xavier Woods forcing the ball to pop out of Ertz’s hands for an incompletion.


Ertz left the game briefly, then came back to finish the game catching four passes for 28 yards. But the damage was done. The seven-year veteran suffered cracked ribs and a back injury.


Wentz acknowledged that when he throws a ball like that, he is putting the receiver at risk.


“Anytime that happens I feel bad,” Wentz said. “Not just because he’s a friend, and a teammate. You throw a ball real high, you get hit, that stuff happens, unfortunately, that led to an injury. But we’re all good. I do feel bad when that stuff happens. At the same time, that’s football."


Pederson said the Eagles will get running back Jordan Howard back for the game against New York. Howard has been out since Week 9 when he suffered a shoulder injury against his old team, the Chicago Bears.


“Jordan Howard, he's been cleared, Pederson said Friday morning. “Doctors cleared him yesterday, last night after practice. He's good to go.”

Pederson was asked how he will fit Howard in now that Miles Sanders has been playing so well.


“Challenge is we've been planning with Miles and Boston, and Jordan gives us obviously a third back, situational guy; we understand who he is. Again, we mentioned yesterday as far as the conditioning and the game shape and being ready, you just can't give him a full complement of plays. We don't want to necessarily disrupt what we have going, but he is a big piece obviously to our offense."


Where is Jordan’s level of strength right now, Pederson was asked.


“I mean, it's good,” the coach said. “I wouldn't say it's necessarily probably where he wants it to be, but it's good. It's good for playing. Again, we're going to be smart about it, but we're full steam ahead with Miles and Boston.”


Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson was listed as questionable against the Giants on Friday. Johnson missed last week’s game against the Cowboys with an ankle injury. Halapoulivaati Vaitai played well as his replacement.


“There is progress,” Pederson said when asked about Johnsons status. “He is doing well. We’ll see again today how he does on land before we make a determination for this game.”


Wentz said it will be the team leaders who will need to step up if the Eagles want to advance to the playoffs for third consecutive year. He mentioned himself, Jason Kelce and Jason Peters as those who the team will lean on this Sunday.


"We have to win this one," Wentz said. "It's just like the last few weeks. I think everyone knows that. Obviously, we've had a couple of emotional wins over the last few weeks. As leaders and coaches as well, they're doing a great job of making sure guys are still bought into this. The here and now and not drawing on the past, not looking ahead either. We've got our work cut out for us against a good opponent, on the road. Obviously, we know if we win, we're in. We know what it has to take." *


Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii

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