While the Eagles faced more third downs than they would have liked against Washington on Sunday, they also had their best third-down day ever under Doug Pederson, converting on 11 of 19 attempts.
They converted two on 3rd-and-7 or longer with run plays.
That never happens without the quick burst from rookie Miles Sanders.
“The athleticism that he has, the big-play ability that he has,” center Jason Kelce said, “that’s something that, quite frankly, we’ve needed on this offense. It’s been really good, obviously, that he can provide that.”
Sanders on Sunday converted on a 3rd-and-7 run and a 3rd-and-10, getting up over 20 mph on both runs. It’s a dimension of speed from that position that the Eagles haven’t had for a long time.
It’s a real advantage and it’s fun to watch.
Let’s take a closer look at each of those two plays:
Play 1 — Top speed: 20.64 mph
This was a 3rd-and-7 with 3:08 left in the first half. The Eagles have the ball at their own 35-yard line and Sanders picks up a big gain of 14 yards on a draw. It was the Eagles’ second-longest play of the day.
The Eagles are in shotgun in 12 personnel and you’ll notice both Washington safeties are back. The Eagles notice that too. The Redskins are running a stunt up front, which we’ll take a closer look at in a minute, but know the Eagles handle it well.
At the mesh point, it looks like there’s a hole developing and it’s basically going to be a 1-on-1 between Sanders and safety Landon Collins.
A few weeks ago, Sanders would have probably seen that hole and gone at it right away. But on Sunday, he shows patience. He realizes that Isaac Seumalo’s man was coming across his face, so Sanders stuck his foot in the ground and then explodes up field for a first down. Collins gets off balance and had zero chance of catching him.
Meanwhile, all the receivers on that side of the field are doing their jobs and taking their men away, leaving a lot of open space.
Take a look from the other angle:
Here, you’ll see how well Seumalo handles this stunt up front. He passes it off and then takes his new man with momentum away from the play. Sanders gets his foot in the ground and explodes up to over 20 mph.
Just before the mesh point, you can see how this play looks to be developing. Collins is already starting to drive toward the first hole. Meanwhile, Seumalo is passing off his man and about to take linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton away with his own momentum.
I can’t stress enough how important Sanders’ development has been. A few weeks ago, he probably bursts through that first hole and gains five yards and the Eagles punt. But now he remains patient and bursts to the right spot.
Kelce brought up an interesting point on Sunday night. Sanders has always had burst, but sometimes that can be a bad thing if he’s not going to the right place. We probably saw some of that earlier in the season. But now Sanders is patient and his vision is taking over … and once he finds the hole, he’s gone.
Right here, Sanders has been patient long enough. He sees the new hole developing and he puts his left foot in the dirt and takes off like a rocket. Collins does the same, but even if he takes a decent angle, he has no chance to catch the speedy rookie, who picks up the first down.
Play 2 — Top speed: 21.01 mph
This play came on a 3rd-and-10 early in the fourth quarter from the Eagles’ 25-yard line. Sanders picked up 56 yards on the run. It’s the second-longest run on the season, behind just his 65-yarder against the Bills.
At the snap, the Redskins have an overload blitz on the left side of the defensive line. They’re going to bring more bodies than the Eagles have blockers — Big V isn’t going to block three players — but that’s OK.
Nothing too special here. Sanders is just going to bounce this outside and find a bunch of room. The two defenders have no chance to catch him and he simply runs away from them. Washington clearly wasn’t expecting the Eagles to run a draw play on 3rd-and-10 down four points. The Eagles got them with it thanks to Sanders’ speed.
Don’t expect Pederson to start running on 3rd-and-longs frequently. But since this is now on tape, teams have to at least respect it, which means this should free up more in the passing game.
None of this is possible with a plodding runner. I can’t say for certain, but I’d be shocked to see the Eagles run either of these plays with Jordan Howard because he just doesn’t have the same explosion as Sanders.
According to NFL’s NextGen Stats, Sanders accounted for the second- and ninth-fastest recorded times for ball carriers in Week 15 and both happened on these third down plays. He’s quite a weapon and we’re probably just scratching the surface.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.