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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