The Eagles need a victory over the New York Jets Sunday at MetLife Stadium (4:25 p.m., FOX, WIP 94.1-FM) to keep up with the only other undefeated team in the league, the San Francisco 49ers.
That makes the game so much more than a showdown between the Eagles wide receivers and a depleted Jets secondary, with both starting cornerbacks Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed ruled out with concussions, or a game of cat-and-mouse between accomplished Birds pass rusher Haason Reddick and up-and-coming Jets quarterback Zach Wilson.
The matchups add volatility to a meeting that suddenly is anything but a lock for the Eagles, for they will be without the services of stalwart starters Darius Slay, their best pass defender, and rookie sensation Jalen Carter, who leads them in sacks. Both are out at least this week with injuries.
Their margin for error lessened, the Eagles could use another big game from A.J. Brown to maintain the momentum they’ll need the following week against the Miami Dolphins (4-1) and their insanely talented offense.
Brown is fourth in the league with 541 receiving yards and needs 125 receiving yards Sunday to become just the third player in the Super Bowl era with four games of 125 receiving yards or more in his team’s first six games of a season. Lance Alworth (1968 Chargers) and Andre Rison (1990 Falcons) are the others.
To get there, and more importantly to get the win, Brown will deal with a secondary battered by injuries. Both of the Jets’ starting corners are out, as is nickel back Brandin Echols (hamstring).
Gardner, the reigning AFC defensive rookie of the year, finished in the top 10 in AP defensive player of the year voting. It’s the first time he has missed an NFL start.
“I’m not going to lie to you, Sauce is a really good player, young player,” Brown said. “He’s tall, he’s got good feet, he can get in and out of breaks and he plays the ball really well. … I don’t see faces. I try not to focus on that.”
While Brown isn’t sure how the Jets will defend him, he says he’s “not too caught up with the matchup.”
“Whoever is in front of me I’ve got to try to beat,” Brown said. “That’s my job. We’ve got 10 other people on the field, too. We’re not focusing on one player. We focus on all the players. They’ve got another decent corner over there, D.J. (Reed), got a couple good safeties. They’ve got a good defense, good linebackers. So, it’s bigger than just Sauce over there. We’re locked in.”
Bryce Hall, whose 39-yard scoop and score sealed the Jets’ 31-21 win over Denver last week, will get his second straight start at corner. Former Eagle Craig James is among those stepping into the void.
Reddick, coming off a game with two sacks, could be the key to victory for the Eagles. Wilson has limited experience, as the plan was for Aaron Rodgers to lead the Jets this season. A torn Achilles’ tendon in the opener changed everything.
“He’s been playing well the last two weeks,” Reddick said of Wilson. “But I think the philosophy more so is, ‘let’s manage the game. Young quarterback and let’s do what we can do to make sure he’s not making too many mistakes and that way we don’t let the game get out of our hands.’”
Like the 49ers, the Jets’ offense starts with the run. The Jets (2-3) also don’t finish nearly as much as the Niners, who are 5-0.
Reddick has 42.5 sacks since the start of the 2020 season, third in the league over that time behind T.J. Watt (51.0 sacks) and Myles Garrett (49.5). Reddick leads the league with a dozen strip sacks over that time.
Source: Berkshire mont