At some point over the past month, somebody waved a magic wand over Nick Sirianni and cast a spell. ‘Hocus Pocus, running the ball is the focus’ echoed around his head after waking up one morning and the Eagles have never looked back since. As far as Miles Sanders is concerned, he’ll be hoping that the first half of the season was simply a bad dream and that when he returns, it’s situation normal.
Believe it or not, the Eagles actually rank third in the NFL in total rushing yards. They’re averaging 18 yards more per game on the ground than they did in 2020. That’s even more staggering when you remember that for the opening six weeks or so, it looked as though the Eagles were an offense filled with 98 passing plays and 3 running ones.
However, things have really started to turn around. Ever since Miles Sanders went down with an injury, the Eagles have burst into life. The Eagles had 19 rushing first downs against the Lions and over the last three weeks, actually lead the NFL in rushing by averaging over 200 yards per game. Jordan Howard was called up from the practice squad and along with Boston Scott, turned back the clocks and really found some rushing confidence.
The duo have become quite the double act, with Kenny Gainwell filling in the blanks. Sure, the offense has faced mostly poor run defenses, but Denver were no slouches against opposing ball carriers and Sirianni still prioritized the run. It helps that Jalen Hurts can add a ton of value to the ground-game. He does lead the team in rushing after all. But even so, this is such a stark contrast to what we saw at the start of the year that it’s still hard to believe.
So what does all of this mean for Miles Sanders? Well, we honestly don’t know. The Penn State product played in seven games this season but did so sparingly. He totalled 63 rushing attempts for 300 rushing yards and 4.8 yards per carry. Sanders was actually productive when he had the ball in his hands, it just didn’t happen very often.
For context, Jordan Howard has played in only three games this season but already has 44 rushing attempts and 211 yards. That’s an average of 14.6 carries per game as opposed to the 9 previously given to Sanders. This isn’t even including Boston Scott’s carries, all 40 of which have come in the last 4 weeks.
It may be that the Eagles try to very genuinely ease Sanders back into the rotation and continue to ride the hot hands. But that could also be interpreted as the team continuing to bury him in a depth chart he should quite frankly be on top of.
It would also really suck for Jordan Howard and company to be pushed to the side just to facilitate the return of a player they couldn’t get going at the start of the season. Sanders wanted the ball in his hands and the whole world, including his teammates, backed that notion. But his absence didn’t sting and the team have been able to move the ball more fluently than they have all year.
They went back to the tried and tested formula of a committee effort where each back brings something unique to the table as opposed to using a three-down back who isn’t the most versatile in the world, with a supporting cast. Does Nick Sirianni want to risk shaking up what’s been working so perfectly over the past three weeks, or risk letting one of the team’s brightest stars slowly fade out?
If the Eagles Head Coach is really all about running the ball now then it’s hard to imagine him wanting to leave the backfields’ most dynamic playmaker out in the cold. Seeing guys like Lane Johnson get fired up on a Jordan Howard carry has to count for something. This team wants to run the ball and is having a fun time doing it so dominantly. it benefits everyone on the offense and a player of Sanders’ caliber can only boost their chances of keeping the fire burning.
But as we all know, there always seems to be more than meets the eye when it comes to personnel decisions and the writing may have been on the wall for quite some time. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire