A poorly-functioning running back carousel has been Duce Staley’s knock since the moment he was hired as the Eagles’ running back coach. Those gears continue to grind in 2019.
The team made a massive overhaul in the winter months, significantly changing a running back room that hadn’t had the same leading rusher in consecutive seasons since Lesean McCoy led the team for six consecutive seasons. This year was slated to be no different, but it was expected that either the trade-acquired Jordan Howard or drafted Miles Sanders would provide stability to the top of the depth chart.
I preface this by saying, I’m not omnipotent, and don’t pretend to be, but my thought was that Howard, the veteran, would get the bulk of the touches early in the season while Sanders, the rookie, and anticipated future starter, learned the offense and gained confidence. That has not been the case through the first few weeks.
Throughout the first two and a half games, Miles Sanders has seen the lion’s share of carries, sans the bulk of snaps that Darren Sproles saw in week one against Washington. Sanders touched the ball 21 times out of the backfield in the first two games, paired with an additional 13 carries in game three, good for 53 yards. He also fumbled in a crucial spot in the second quarter, after having a carry luckily called down prior to the ball slipping out of his hands after touching the ground.
Howard, meanwhile, carried the football just 14 times in the first two weeks. In the first two games, Howard averaged 4.4 yards per carry. He added 11 touches against Detroit, a bulk of which came after the Sanders fumble. Through three weeks, Howard is averaging just under four yards per carry.
This is NOT a claim for the benching of Sanders after three weeks. It’s not defamation of the young back’s name, either. It is, however, a call for a rotational change. So perhaps, instead of comparing the two back’s stats through three weeks, I should be calling for change from Duce Staley. A partial reason as to why the Eagles have not had consistent running back success is because they’ve not had a legitimate, number-one running back. The other reason is Staley’s rotation. No running back has been able to garner consistency because of the rotation, leading to far-too-frequent changes on the field.
Miles Sanders is a tremendous talent. He has many of the tools that should lead to a long, productive NFL career. But to say he could be good and that he is also not ready to take the reins as a three-down NFL back can both bet true at the same time. Howard is a former 1000-yard rusher and a four-year vet. He doesn’t have the talent that Sanders does in the pass game, but he does have a more well-rounded tool belt at this current juncture.
Howard should be touching the ball 15 times out of the backfield. Sanders should get eight or nine carries a game. That number could, at some point in the season, flip, as Sanders gets more comfortable as an NFL running back. At this time, however, Staley needs to give Howard the bulk of the carries, and go from there.