Nick Sirianni expects running backs Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard to both be healthy and available for the Eagles’ wild-card playoff game against the Buccaneers Sunday.
Sanders hasn’t played since breaking his hand on Dec. 26 in a game against the Giants at the Linc. Howard suffered a neck injury in the same game, and although he played a week later against Washington he clearly wasn’t 100 percent.
“We’re hopeful for Miles this week, again that’s why we didn’t put him on IR way back when he did have the hand injury,” Sirianni said Monday afternoon. “So we’re hopeful for him, we’re hopeful for Jordan this week and (we’ll also have) Boston (Scott) and Kenny (Gainwell). I think we’ll have our full stable of backs.”
Having a healthy Sanders would be huge.
Sanders averaged 5.5 yards per carry this year, highest by an Eagles running back with at least 100 carries since Steve Van Buren in 1945.
He joined Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders and Gale Sayers as well as Nick Chubb and Abner Haynes as only the seventh player in NFL history to begin his career with three straight seasons of 750 rushing yards and at least a 4.5 average.
At the point he got hurt, Sanders was enjoying one of the best stretches ever by an Eagles running back. From Week 6 through Week 16, he averaged 6.1 yards per carry, best during that 11-week stretch of all running backs.
Howard, who didn’t play until Week 8, averaged 4.7 yards per carry in seven games after spending the first half of the season on the practice squad. Playing against Washington just a week after hurting his neck, he was only 11-for-26 against Washington and did not look like his usual self. He didn't play against Dallas.
The Eagles led the NFL with 160 rushing yards per game, and it's a given that they'll have to run the ball exceptionally well Sunday to have a chance to upset the Bucs.
In addition to Sanders and Howard, Boston Scott ran for 373 yards and seven touchdowns with a 4.3 average and with 12-for-78 against Dallas Saturday night, rookie Kenny Gainwell finished with 291 yards, a 4.3 average and five rushing TDs. Jalen Hurts also ran for 784 yards and 10 touchdowns with a 5.6 average.
With 25 rushing TDs, the Eagles led the NFL and tied a franchise record set in 1945 and first matched in 1949.
“I’m really excited about where our backfield is,” Sirianni said. “I think a lot of teams in this league would like the depth that we have at this position.”
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One running back who won’t be playing Sunday is Jason Huntley, who rushed for 51 yards in his first extended career playing time and had an 18-yard run from scrimmage and a 35-yard kick return, the Eagles’ second-longest this year.
But Sirianni said it would be impossible to get Huntley onto the game-day roster. Which means Jalen Reagor will be active once again.
“Jason did a really good job in the game with a lot of different things, not only with kick returns but also running the football,” Sirianni said. “You saw how explosive a player he is. Unfortunately for him, he’s in a very crowded room with a lot of good players that have had a lot of good reps, and we have a lot of great depth there.
“Kenny had a great game the other day, I thought he ran the ball really well also. … So it would be hard to get Jason up for this game. He did a phenomenal job as a kick returner but it will be hard to get him up because that means other positions will suffer there if you have too many backs up."