On the surface, a week 3 loss to Detroit showed plenty of promise for rookie running back Miles Sanders. The Penn State product led the Eagles in both receiving and rushing on Sunday, showcasing his versatility and explosiveness. But two fumbles in quick succession cast a very dark cloud over what would’ve been a hot summer’s day.
As a rookie, finding your feet in the NFL can be difficult and Sanders entered today averaging under 3 yards per carry, despite being given the ‘Lions’ share. He came out of today’s defeat with plenty of reasons to feel confident…but also with a burden of concern. Sanders fumbled 10 times in 38 collegiate games and it didn’t take long for that Ghost to haunt him at the next level.
Fumbling twice on the same drive, a lack of ball-security pushed the Lions into a position to make a field goal. One that would ultimately be vital in a three-point loss.
“We just told him we have a lot of confidence in him, still have a lot of trust in him, and kept him out there.” Doug Pederson said, “That’s the only way to have trust and confidence in a player is to keep them out there and keep playing.”
“I thought he sort of rebounded from those in the second half with a couple nice runs; kickoff returns were good. It was just a learning moment for a young running back in games like this. We know we have to take care of the ball.”
It wasn’t just ball-security either. Sanders’ lack of vision and debatable hesitance behind the line of scrimmage saw him leave plenty of meat on the bone. When you’ve got an angry Jordan Howard waiting on the sideline while Sanders squanders opportunities, there is a genuine reason to question why he led the team with 13 carries. But then there are the plays where he did succeed.
Sanders turned out to be the team’s best deep-threat on Sunday, taking advantages of mismatches and leaning on a new-found sense of versatility, having only caught 32 passes in 38 games as a Nittany Lion. This was a massive step for Sanders, and the Eagles backfield, given that Darren Sproles will only be around until the end of the season.
“It was just a lot of what we saw on tape.” Carson Wentz said of the running back’s explosive receiving impact. “We were trying to create some mismatches, and obviously Miles is an explosive guy. You try to get the ball in his hands. You saw him catch that ball down the seam. He creates some mismatches with linebackers, so we try to use that to our advantage.”
As for Sanders, he’s approaching things with the right attitude. It’s important not to let mistakes define you in any walk of life, but as an NFL player, it can be immensely damaging. Nelson Agholor’s dropsies in 2016 may have been the perfect example of that. But after some time on the sideline, he came back with a vengeance.
“I just have to put it behind me and keep going. Sanders said. “It’s a long season; [I’ll] continue to grow, and get ready for next week.”
It’s a long season, long game, and don’t let it affect my game. I got back in and tried to make the best of my opportunity. Like I said, put it behind me. [I’m] not perfect, but I’m definitely going to work my tail off this whole week and get better.”
The Eagles did a great job of keeping spirits high. It would’ve been easy to pull Sanders after the fumbles, which would’ve drastically reduced his morale. Instead, they kept him in and were rewarded in style.
The Birds’ top-2 longest plays from scrimmage came as a result of Sanders’ work. The second-round pick also added a 33-yard catch in the fourth quarter. He is the first NFL rookie running back to record multiple 30+ yard receptions in one game since 2017, and the first as an Eagles rookie running back to do so since 2000.
Everybody makes mistakes. I don’t think it’s either tougher or as tough as if you are a 10-year vet fumbling or dropping the ball. Like I said, I’m in the NFL for a reason; I have a job to do. But [I] keep working [and] getting better every day.”
Sanders seems ready to leave the game in the rearview mirror. But while there was a lot to criticize, there was also a fair amount to praise. Sanders may have been shaky, but he gave the Eagles reasons to be confident in his development.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports