Less than one year after undergoing brain surgery, Mike Patterson will return to the football field on Monday night. Also, Nate Allen is questionable with a hamstring injury, which could spell trouble for a reeling defense going up against Drew Brees.
Patterson was activated off of the non-football injury list on Sunday, where he was placed since the beginning of training camp. The defensive tackle's surgery in January involved a procedure known as a crainiotomy -- temporarily removing the top of the skull to access the brain. Doctors were concerned the bone had not fully healed, and he was not cleared to play. At some point in the past month or so, Patt got the OK, and he began practicing with the team last week.
His timing might prove impeccable. The defensive line has obviously struggled, particularly with getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. While Patterson isn't a big penetrator, his presence might help, and it is notable his absence is the only missing ingredient from last season's 46-sack effort. But if nothing else, it should keep the other guys a little fresher.
Cullen Jenkins also happens to be questionable for this week's game, so if he can't go, Patterson's return will be even more meaningful. The Eagles released linebacker Jason Williams, a special teams contributor, to free up a spot on the 53-man roster.
Patterson's surgery stems from an incident back at Lehigh in 2011, when he suddenly suffered a seizure on the practice field. The 29 year old was diagnosed with a condition known as an AVM, which could loosely be described as a tangling of arteries and veins in the brain. The symptoms were manageable with medication, which is why he was able to play in 15 games last year, but doctors were able to correct the problem with surgery.
Meanwhile, Nate Allen came down with a hamstring injury during the week, and as of now the safety looks like a game-time decision. If he can't go, David Sims is expected to start in his place, and any issue in the secondary is magnified in a contest against the Saints. Drew Brees is only the most prolific quarterback in the NFL. What could possibly go wrong?
A lot went wrong when Allen came out of the Eagles' Week 6 loss to the Detroit Lions. Colt Anderson replaced Allen in that game, and the Lions suddenly became an offensive juggernaut. A breakdown of the All-22 showed then-defensive coordinator Juan Castillo went away from mixing up his coverage schemes, opting for the same two or three looks from the secondary the rest of the way. The concern appeared to be that the defense had no substitute for Allen, and could no longer execute their game plan. Castillo was the next day.
The reality is the Birds are extremely thin at secondary. They tried to make it work with 2011 second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett, but decided to cut their losses one week into this season. They also signed O.J. Atogwe over the summer, but he was unable to stay healthy, and was released after camp.
The Eagles acquired Sims from the Browns in a trade on cut-down day in exchange for a conditional draft pick. An undrafted free agent, the 5-9 Sims spent last season with Cleveland, but did not play. He's appeared in six games for the Eagles, all on special teams. We asked Scott Sargent from the Cleveland sports blog Waiting for Next Year about the 26-year-old safety back in September:
David Sims made a ton of fans in Cleveland over the course of the preseason... A constant effort guy, he seems to always be around the ball. Granted, he made most of his impact against NFL reserves, but the kid undoubtedly belongs in the league... I can't guarantee he'll make an impact for you guys early on, but I would certainly not have much concern if he's forced into action.
Against the Saints though? Be concerned. Be afraid even. Brees has dissected better safeties than Nate Allen, but that means he's taken apart far better and more experienced than Sims, too.
But on a positive note for the Birds, Brees will be without one of his most dangerous weapons. Darren Sproles is out with a broken hand, leaving the Saints without their biggest weapon out of the backfield.
Sproles set an NFL record with an outrageous 2,696 yards all-purpose yards -- rushing, receiving, and returning kicks, and added 10 touchdowns. He's only carried the ball 26 times this season, so he's hardly even a running back, but he already had 39 catches for 323 yards and four TD. Big loss for the Saints, although not enough of one that the Eagles can breathe a sigh of relief, either.