Denied TD, RB Sanders sure to keep focus on job
Rookie from Penn State won’t complain, just looks for chance to contribute
PHILADELPHIA — He thought he had his first career touchdown in his first career NFL game. But an officiating error means Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders, a rookie out of Penn State, will have to wait until Sunday night at the earliest to tackle that milestone.
Sanders isn’t sweating a 21-yard TD burst that was reduced to just a 7-yard gain by what turned out to be a bogus holding call on wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in a 32-27 win over Washington. That’s just not his style.
“It was a bad call,” Sanders said, “but it is what it is. We got theW` ,’ and that’s all that matters.”
Had the TD run counted, Sanders would have finished with 39 yards on a game-high 11 carries instead of the 25 yards he was credited with in his debut.
Either way, coach Doug Pederson was able to get just what he sought from his running game when the offensive backfield is at full strength, like it was Sunday. Darren Sproles carried nine times for 47 yards. Jordan Howard added 44 yards on just six carries. In the end, the Eagles had 123 rushing yards while averaging 4.0 yards per attempt.
And this was without No. 4 back Corey Clement even getting a touch.
As for the workload, the split won’t always be equitable. That will always be dictated by opponents and how games unfold.
But they have the right skill sets and personalities in place to handle whatever duties are thrown at them. You won’t hear complaints about having to have so many touches to get into a rhythm or some such.
And you won’t hear any more doubts voiced about Sanders’ ability to pick up
the blitz, based on what he was able to do on Sunday. Besides, according to Sanders, those doubts were unfounded in the first place.
“I don’t think [people who questioned his pass blocking] were watching film,” Sanders said. “I did a lot of pass protection at Penn State. But the only thing that matters is what happens now, so I control what I can control, and that’s going out there and knowing what I’ve got to do on each play.”
Most plays, he will be required to do nothing. Despite ending with more carries than anyone else, Sanders played just 23% of the offensive snaps.
But he could play 90 or 100% if required. “Whatever the rotation is,” he said, “I’m going to do whatever they tell me to do and produce.”
Needless to say, the same goes for Sproles, Clement and Howard.
Just because Sproles had 16 touches (nine carries, three receptions, four punt returns) on Sunday doesn’t mean he’s going to get the same every week at age 36.
“We’re always are going to monitor that each week,” Pederson said. “It’s kind of how our game plan fell with the running backs a little bit. We still want to keep him involved as best we can, but at the same time we want to make sure that Miles and Jordan, because they’re both younger backs … are good and can keep that rotation solid, along with Corey. So we’ll keep an eye on it.”
Having the full complement available all season could be the most enjoyable problem Pederson, offensive coordinator Mike Groh and running backs coach Duce Staley encounter in 2019.
But it will be complicated. These backs may not need an unusual workload to get a rhythm going, but they have to get some game work every week.
Howard is not worried, despite getting six carries in his first game with the Eagles after being dangled as trade bait for Los Angeles Chargers counterpart Melvin Gordon.
“I don’t feel like it takes a while [to get used to it],” he said. “You just have to be ready when your number is called. We all know that, so we just prepare ourselves to be ready when our number is called.”
Finding his rhythm is simply about taking advantage of opportunities.
“You can’t be thinking bad about one play,” he said. “You’ve got to keep going.”
Just as Sanders answered questions about his pass protection with his performance, Sanders did the same with questions about his passcatching ability, snagging both balls thrown his way.
One of them was a low, improvised throw that he had to catch just inches off the ground.
If there were any other lingering questions about how much Sproles has left in the tank or Howard having lost a step, they were answered positively too.
Suffice to say the Eagles couldn’t be happier with their running back corps after one game.
The Eagles’ Miles Sanders tries to break a tackle in Sunday’s win over the Washington Redskins.