Eagles

Doug Pederson shaking up Eagles' running back rotation

Doug Pederson shaking up Eagles' running back rotation

Jordan Howard fans appear to be getting their wish.

Howard, the veteran running back the Eagles got for just about nothing from the Bears this offseason, will be the Eagles’ lead back moving forward, head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday.

Things have been trending that way the last couple weeks, but Pederson indicated that this is now more of a semi-permanent arrangement instead of a week-to-week plan.

The first three weeks of the season, rookie second-round pick Miles Sanders got 34 carries and Howard 25. 

The last two games, Howard has had 28 carries and Sanders 20.

Sanders hasn’t been bad. After averaging 2.5 yards per carry in his first two NFL games, he’s at 4.2 in the last three. And he’s been terrific in the passing game.

But Howard has just been more consistent. He followed a 15-for-87 against the Packers with a 13-for-62 on Sunday against the Jets, when he was one of the few bright spots on an offense that sputtered much of the game.

For the season, Howard is at 4.7 yards per carry, which is eighth-best in the NFL among the 30 running backs with at least 50 carries. Sanders is 23rd on that list at 3.6.

Most importantly, Howard leads all NFL running backs in highest percentage of carries that have gone for a first down (minimum of 50 carries). He’s rushed for 17 first downs on 53 carries (32 percent). Only Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (18-for-50, 36 percent) is higher.

Sanders has recorded a first down on just 7 of his 54 carries for 13 percent.

Here are the top 10:

36.0% … Lamar Jackson
32.1% … Jordan Howard
30.7% … Marlon Mack
28.8% … Carlos Hyde
28.4% … Mark Ingram
28.2% … Ezekiel Elliott
26.9% … Aaron Jones
26.6% … Chris Carson
26.6% … David Johnson
25.4% … Austin Ekeler

Howard runs with force, power and vision. He pushes the pile forward and moves the chains. 

But Sanders hasn’t been awful at all. He ran very well in the Packers game — 11-for-72 rushing — and he’s made a big impact in the passing game with catches of 33, 36 and 40 yards. 

Those are the Eagles’ three longest receptions in their last three games.

Sanders is the first Eagles rookie with three 30-yard catches in his first five NFL games since tight end Jason Dunn back in 1996. Interestingly, Dunn had only three more 30-yard catches in his 157 remaining NFL games. 

Sanders is the only running back in the NFL with three 30-yard catches.

Knowing Pederson, he’ll still use a committee approach. It just sounds like the percentages will start to favor Howard a little more.

“We’ve still got a lot of season left,” he said. “It’s a good mix of guys with those two guys. You’re seeing Miles in the passing game be a little more explosive with some of the down-the-field throws with him, and with Jordan, he’s kind of the guy that you settle down in the run game and give him those touches. He’s a between-the-tackles guy, he’s big and powerful, got good vision. And I really think Miles is learning from Jordan running the ball, which is a positive. … Jordan has been kind of the lead back the last couple of games for sure, but Miles is learning and coming and I’m really happy with both of them.”

Sanders’ snaps have ranged from 36 in the opener to 22 on Sunday with an average of 30. 

Howard has ranged from 17 in the opener to 33 on Sunday with an average of 23.

Sanders will continue to play a significant role, and he has to continue getting enough carries so defenses can’t assume he’s running routes as soon as they see him on the field.

Both these backs are new here, and the offensive coaches are still figuring out exactly what they have. As that process continues, we should see Pederson dial up more and more plays that play to their strength. And that can only be good news for the offense.

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Eagles' new coach thinks team's WR corps is underrated, can be among NFL's best

Eagles' new coach thinks team's WR corps is underrated, can be among NFL's best

They're tired of being known as the worst group of wide receivers in the league.

And they may finally have a coach who can help them get rid of that tag.

"We have an expectation to be one of the top groups in the league," new Eagles receivers coach Aaron Moorehead said Thursday. "That's what we expect. This group is coming out with a little bit of a chip on its shoulder I think because of last year, and that's a good thing."

Eagles receivers last year combined for just 137 passes for 1,488 yards and nine touchdowns, the worst WR numbers in the league.

It was the fewest yards by an Eagles receiving corps since 2000, when Charles Johnson, Torrance Small and Friends had 1,481.

For the first time since 1966 no Eagles wide receiver even had 500 yards.

Out with Carson Walch, in with Moorehead, the Eagles' fifth receivers coach in five years under Doug Pederson.

It doesn't take much time with Moorehead – even on a Zoom call – to sense his confidence, passion, dedication and communication skills.

And he's already instilled a hunger in this wide receiving group to go from one of the worst in the league to one of the best.

"At the end of the day, a little added extra motivation (doesn't hurt)," he said. "In this day and age (with) social media, you can try to ignore it, but people hear what (critics) say, and I think guys understand that we do have something to prove, and that's OK. There's nothing wrong with that, and I enjoy a good challenge and I enjoy coaching a group that has something to prove."

DeSean Jackson is 33 and managed one healthy game last year. Alshon Jeffery struggled then got hurt and has been largely disappointing since he signed here. Second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had a miserable rookie year. And rookie Jalen Reagor keeps hearing how the Eagles should have taken Justin Jefferson instead.

You can understand why this group feels disrespected.

"I think that's good," Moorehead said. "I've coached groups that people believed were the best [...] and I've coached groups that people disrespected and felt like they weren't very good, so it's not anything new to me. I think we have a really good group. I know we have a really good group. It's just up to us to stay healthy and prove it week in and week out."

The Eagles haven't had a wide receiver with back-to-back 100-yard games since Jordan Matthews in 2015.

They haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Jeremy Maclin in 2014.

On paper they should be better. How can they not be?

Their goal isn't just to be better. It’s to be among the best.

"So far they've taken the approach that [they're] ready to go out there and prove every day why we should be one of the top groups in the NFL," Moorehead said.

You have to love Moorehead's approach and his personality.

If his receivers can match his confidence and swagger, the Eagles just might finally have a receiving corps to get excited about.

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Eagle Eye podcast: Is Zach Ertz next in line for a contract extension?

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Eagle Eye podcast: Is Zach Ertz next in line for a contract extension?

On the latest Eagle Eye podcast, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro take a look at Zach Ertz’s contract situation after George Kittle and Travis Kelce got huge extensions. 

The guys pick some things they would have watched in the preseason opener, talk about Doug Pederson’s structure for practice and give their first impressions on a couple of new Eagles coaches. 

Plus, remembering the great Howard Mudd, who died at 78 this week. 

  • (1:02) — What Travis Kelce and George Kittle's contract mean for Zach Ertz.
  • (16:45) — Things we would have watched tonight in preseason opener.
  • (23:08) — Doug Pederson details Eagles’ 2020 training camp structure
  • (28:45) — Aaron Moorehead and Matt Burke speak on their roles. 
  • (36:54) — Remembering Howard Mudd
     

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More on the Eagles