What do changes at offensive coordinator mean for Miles Sanders?

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Doug Pederson’s tenure as Eagles head coach has involved a running back committee since he was hired.

In 2016, three running backs had over 75 carries on the season: Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood.

In 2017, only one has more than 75, but the share of snaps were spread out through many backs. LeGarrette Blount led the team with 173, Corey Clement had 74, Jay Ajayi had 70, and Smallwood had 47. Kenjon Barner and Sproles had 11 and 10 respectively.

In 2018, the shares were 120 for Josh Adams, 87 for Smallwood, 68 for Clement, 45 for Ajayi, and 29 for Sproles.

The trend continued in 2019 with the trio of Darren Sproles, Jordan Howard, and Miles Sanders, well at least for three games. After those three games, it became the Sanders and Howard show, and then ultimately the Sanders and Scott show. Check out the snap shares throughout the season:

  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
Miles Sanders 48% 43% 34% 35% 43% 29% 54% 18% 40%   85% 84% 87% 56% 71% 82% 31%
Jordan Howard 23% 22% 33% 53% 43% 63% 38% 73% 48%   0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 1%
Boston Scott           6% 13% 12%     19% 4% 0% 44% 45% 28% 74%
Darren Sproles 31% 35% 36% 11% 15%       11%   0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Jay Ajayi                     0% 12% 13% 6% 0% 0%  

After the bye week, Pederson veered towards a two-back system and it paid dividends. With the hiring of Rich Scangarello and the return of Marty Mornhinweg, does it signal a change of philosophy for Doug Pederson?

Current running back depth

Currently, the Eagles have Sanders, Scott, Clement, Elijah Holyfield, Michael Warren, and Adrian Killins. If they do not opt to sign a veteran running back, I suggested a Shady option here, then they will be very thin at depth if Sanders was to go down with an injury. Scott showed how good he can be but he is still mini-Sproles, Clement is a Super Bowl hero but cannot stay healthy, and we are not sure what we would be getting with Holyfield, Warren, and Killins. If the Eagles are truly relying on Sanders to be the “bell-cow”, did they hire the right people to implement that?

Rich Scangarello

Prior to being the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator in 2019, Scangarello (I really hate typing that long name out, so from here on out I’m saying Scang.) had two other stints in the NFL. From 2017-2018, he was the QB coach on Kyle Shanahan’s staff for the San Francisco 49ers. In 2015, he was the offensive quality assistant on Dan Quinn’s staff for the Atlanta Falcons, also working with Kyle Shanahan.

The 2015 Falcons had a true “bell-cow” in Devonta Freeman averaged 70.4 yards per game, his highest of his career. He had 265 attempts, the next highest on the team was Tevin Coleman with 87.

In his one year hiatus from the NFL as the OC for Wagner College, he had two rushers over 700 yards. In the two years as QB coach for the SF 49ers, Shanahan’s system had Matt Breida split time with Carlos Hyde and Alfred Morris in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Scang went to the Broncos in 2019 after being hired as the OC for Vic Fangio’s staff. Running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman also had equal snaps last season, with Lindsay getting 513 and Freeman getting 506. Despite the almost equal share of snaps, Lindsay out-rushed Freeman 224 to 132.

However, once Drew Lock was named the starter, Lindsay averaged 15.4 carries per game to Freeman’s 5.8. Prior to Lock being named starter, Lindsay averaged 13.4 and Freeman averaged 9.4. Does this point to “bell-cow” usage of one running back when there’s a mobile quarterback under center? Sounds like the Eagles situation at quarterback.

Let’s see how old friend Marty Mornhinweg has treated the running game.

Marty Mornhinweg

Marty comes back to the NFL after spending 2019 out of the league.

In case you just started following the Eagles within the last few years, Marty Mornhinweg was the team’s offensive coordinator from 2006-2012. In those seven years, the team ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards three times, the other four times were 11th, 13th, and two times at 22nd.

Out of his 18 years in the NFL, 16 of them were spent as an offensive coordinator. In those 16 years, his rushing attack was ranked in the top ten 9 times, the 11th, 13th, 22nd, and 22nd with the Eagles, and rankings of 11, 18, and 28. The 28th ranking was during his first season with the Ravens where the top running backs were Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon.

Discounting Lamar Jackson’s rushing attempts in 2018, Marty implemented a snap share between two running backs: West and Dixon in 2016, Javorius Allen and Alex Collins in 2017, and the quartet of Dixon, Allen, Collins, and Gus Edwards in 2018.

In his years with the Eagles, here are how the rushing attempts were split:

  • 2006: Brian Westbrook – 240 attempts, Correll Buckhalter – 83
  • 2007: Westbrook – 278, Buckhalter – 62
  • 2008: Westbrook – 233, Buckhalter – 76
  • 2009: LeSean McCoy – 155, Westbrook – 61
  • 2010: McCoy – 207, Jerome Harrison – 40 (Michael Vick – 100)
  • 2011: McCoy – 273, Ronnie Brown – 42 (Vick – 76)
  • 2012: McCoy – 200, Bryce Brown – 115

His two years with the Jets led to the team having the 5th most rushing yards in 2013 and the 4th most in 2014.

In 2013, Chris Ivory carried the ball 182 times while Bilal Powell carried it 176 times. In 2014, Ivory carried the ball 198 times while Chris Johnson carried it 155 times.

Despite relying on one running back during his first tenure with the Eagles, Marty’s recent history suggests a change in philosophy.

What does this mean for Miles Sanders?

With Doug Pederson’s philosophy of a ‘running back by committee’ being supplemented by the philosophies of Scang and Marty, it looks like Sanders will again be the victim to a snap share. However, look for Sanders to still carry the ball when he sees the field whereas the other running backs that get playing time to either split out wide or be in for pass protection.

Seeing the success of all the running backs under both Scang and Marty, Sanders could be looking at the first 200 attempt season for the Eagles since 2014 and the first 900+ rusher since that year also.

The offensive gurus are putting their ingredients in the oven, and there will be quite a hearty meal that comes out.

Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

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