Eagles running backs last year: 90 catches, 806 yards, 4 TDs.
Eagles running backs this year: 32 catches, 245 yards, 1 TD.
Eagles running backs - and Miles Sanders in particular - have seen their receiving production plummet this year, from 5 ½ catches for 50 yards per game in 2019 to 3 ½ catches for 27 yards per game this year.
That’s a 46 percent decline in yards per game, and that’s huge for an offense that historically relies heavily on the running backs making plays in the passing game on screens or when things aren’t open down the field.
Like most challenges, there’s no one easy fix.
We had the opportunity to chat Friday afternoon with Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley – who caught nearly 300 passes in his 10-year career – who shared his thoughts on why the Eagles haven’t been able to get the backs going in the passing game:
DEFENSES HAVE ADJUSTED: “These defensive coordinators, they get a chance to go back to the lab. They go back and they study film, and of course, they study the players that can potentially be a problem. So you look at Boston, you look at Miles – two talented guys in the passing game and in the running game – so when you start talking about how to shut them down, they come up with some different looks."
CHEMISTRY WITH CARSON: “The second part, just Miles, I think it’s chemistry, to be honest with you. And the chemistry part comes from not being on the field. He hasn’t been healthy throughout the whole year, so the chemistry between him and Carson – not just him, him and Carson, both together - they've got to get back on the same page for the routes and the passing game to the halfbacks to be successful. … Miles has missed some games, and he wasn’t able to go out there and continue to learn, what the defense is trying to do to him, how Carson is seeing the defense, and how they see it together. I think that’s big. It’s huge."
DROPPED PASSES: “And then the last part, just being his coach, he’ll be the first to tell you, is his hands. And Miles will tell you we go over that. We catch a lot of balls, we throw balls, we talk it through. We watch every route. We’re constantly trying to get better. But he’ll tell you – he’ll be the first to tell you – he has to tighten his hands up.”
SCREEN PASS PROBLEMS: “We’re going to continue to work on it. It’s a work in progress. You go back and every piece of the screen, from the depth of the back, from the quarterback, from the o-line, we’re looking at everything. It’s been a work in progress, right now. I think you said, as far as historically around here, what we’ve been as a screen team – we’ve been pretty good. That’s the truth. We’re definitely trying to get back to that. We just haven’t had the success, what we’re looking for.”
Hopefully, now that Sanders is back healthy after missing three of the Eagles’ first eight games with injuries and the offensive line is relatively intact, the Eagles can improve on these numbers.
Because this offense simply can’t operate efficiently without the backs being viable receivers.
“No matter how much success you had last year, you’ve got to come back and start over and do it all over again,” Staley said. “Because they’re definitely going to play you different. So the biggest thing I take from it is just being able to be on the field, from the beginning to the end. This is a violent league, you know, players get hurt, players get nicked up, that’s the tough part of it. But when it comes to chemistry that’s what you’ve got to have.”
So far, it just hasn’t been there. But they’ve got talented backs, a brilliant running backs coach and a quarterback who’s done it in the past.
Now they just have to figure out a way to put it all together these last seven weeks of the season.
Because this offense needs all the help it can get.
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