With Jordan Howard being limited in practice this week, there may be a chance that the Eagles hold him out for precautionary reasons. Howard has been great for the team since arriving in the offseason and his ability has also assisted Miles Sanders in his own development. The Eagles started the season with Sanders being the top back, at first it hindered his development as he was thrown into an offense that had no identity. But ever since the Lions game, the rookie back has been a ticking time bomb of explosiveness.
The matchup with the Patriots is huge for the Eagles but it’s even bigger for the rookie running back. Miles Sanders grew up as a Steelers fan and has suffered all of the heartaches that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have given the terrible towel fans. The Penn State product talked about the heartache form the Patriots by admitting,
“I grew up a Steelers fan, so they stressed me out a lot. Especially with Tom Brady being there the whole time, but I know a lot about them.” The same heartache is turning into pressure for Sanders right now especially from his own family as his mother has even told them, “You gotta beat them.”
Sanders could be the equalizer that the Eagles need and the Patriots don’t expect. He’s led the team this season in big plays from his 65-yard rushing touchdown to his season-long 45-yard catch. Sanders is averaging 13.9 yards per catch and rushing for 4.4 yards per carry. He’s only the third player in NFL history to average that in his first nine games.
He currently has 955 all-purpose yards to his name, which shows just how valuable he’s been for Doug Pederson and company, despite his shortcomings and clear areas for growth. While his patience and vision are certainly improving, it’s scary to imagine just how dangerous Sanders will be one year from now. He’s already on pace to break the franchise record for a rookie of 1,579 set by Herman Hunter in 1985, and that’s with some glaring holes in his game.
Pederson has found ways to keep his young back involved in the big moments of each game. Against the Bills, he drew a play that had Sanders and Howard lined up together in the backfield which led to Howard delivering a key block for the biggest play of the year for this offense.
There’s no doubt that the rookie has been sensational so far this season but the biggest test lies against the NFL top defense. Sanders could be everything that Eagles and Wentz need in this game as the status of Jordan Howard and Alshon Jeffery remain in question. If the Eagles are to win, it may be on the back of the running game, with or without Howard.
Should the team be without its #1 receiver and its lead running back, the need for a versatile pass-catcher who can wreak havoc in the open-field as well as stretch the field on mesh-sit routes, will be higher than ever.
The Patriots are yet to face a true dual-threat back this season. Saquon Barkley was out when the Giants lost to New England, and Le’Veon Bell had Nick Falk to bail out of trouble on the ground. Outside of that, they haven’t really had to worry about someone who can slip through the cracks on screens and such.
Of course, we all remember Corey Clement’s iconic 100-yard receiving game in Super Bowl 52 and while a performance of that magnitude is unlikely, it at least inspires hope that the Eagles can catch out one of the NFL’s greatest minds one more time.
Sanders may have a defining moment against a team that’s haunted him as a fan.