Have the Colts provided a blueprint for a new-look Eagles backfield?

Miles Sanders
MIAMI GARDENS, FL – DECEMBER 01: Philadelphia Eagles Running Back Miles Sanders (26) runs with ball to score a touchdown during the NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Miami Dolphins at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on December 1, 2019. (Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire)

The 2019 season feels like it was an eternity ago for Eagles fans. The rise of the underdogs, the promise of what next season held, and most importantly for this article, a balanced offense. The season that followed saw everything that was built just 12 months before fall apart, including an offense predicated on running the ball. With new Head Coach Nick Sirianni in town, the winds of change are blowing and Jordan Howard now returning for his third rodeo in midnight green, the signs couldn’t be clearer.

Turning back time

The Eagles weren’t the only successful rushing offense in 2019. Over in Indianapolis, Nick Sirianni was coordinating the league’s seventh-ranked rushing attack. This didn’t stop the team from drafting premier running back Jonathan Taylor during the following offseason and it’s a good job they did.

A torn Achilles for Marlon Mack pushed Taylor into the spotlight where he would go on to finish third in the NFL with 1,169 rushing yards. He was supported by the versatile Nyheim Hines who put up 862 total yards from scrimmage (482 of which were receiving yards), and Jordan Wilkins.

Surprisingly, the team brought back Marlon Mack for another season despite the emergence of their prized rookie in his absence last year, showing a real commitment to the run.

It’s not hard to see why Nick Sirianni would be keen to bring back Jordan Howard.

Why the Eagles re-signed Jordan Howard

Prior to his injury in 2019, Howard averaged a career-high in yards per carry and ended his shortened season with 525 rushing yards, 69 yards through the air and seven total touchdowns. This of course included a hat-trick against the Green Bay Packers.

An area where Jordan Howard has excelled for a while is pass-protection and it’s something the Eagles lacked massively when Darren Sproles departed. There were countless miscommunications last year on blitz-pickups that ended with Carson Wentz being plowed by the opposing defensive fronts. Howard’s return in 2020 came too late into the season to see any real change in this, or any other aspect of the running-game, but that may change in 2021.

Howard struggled when he left Philadelphia for Miami and it’s not like he suddenly found a second wind when returning to the Eagles. But for the price of a veteran’s minimum, the Eagles have a back that they’re familiar with in a new-look offense that may actually provide a solid foundation for Howard to kickstart his resurgence.

What does this mean for the future of the Eagles backfield?

2020 was a frustrating year for Miles Sanders, especially when you remember just how exciting the second half of his rookie season was. From Week 7-17 in 2019, Sanders was one of just eight running backs to average 5+ yards per carry. Additionally, he and Aaron Jones were the only two to do so while also compiling 250+ receiving yards. By season’s end, Sanders was one of just six players to record 500+ rushing and receiving yards- Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, and Austin Ekeler being the others.

One year later, the Eagles passed the ball 62% of the time for no reason at all and the run-game would often start out being heavily utilized before a small mistake would scare Pederson out of ever handing the ball off again. The Penn State product would end up riding the bench for the majority of the second halves outside of a few flurries and had it not been for those stunning breakaway touchdowns, we’d be talking about a very different sophomore season. We all know that Miles Sanders has the potential to be a game-changer and the fact he wasn’t afford more opportunities as both a running back and a receiver after his stunning rookie campaign left a sour taste in the mouths of many.

The Eagles’ backfield now has a very familiar feel to it, but the roles are inverted. Miles Sanders has the do-it-all skill set of Nyheim Hines, while Jordan Howard represents Marlon Mack in this instance, who is coming back on a cheap deal after injury setbacks. Boston Scott acts as the change-of-pace back that Jordan Wilkins did in the opening few weeks of Indy’s 2020 campaign.

The only question remaining is whether or not the duo of Sanders and Howard can harness that same ‘Thunder and Lightning’ potential that electrified the offense in 2019, or whether Howie Roseman will look for a Jonathan Taylor of his own…

Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire