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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The strange, sad tale of Sidney Jones grows even stranger

The strange, sad tale of Sidney Jones grows even stranger

The strange odyssey of Sidney Jones grows even stranger.

With Orlando Scandrick released, Cre’Von LeBlanc not eligible to return from Injured Reserve until Monday and Avonte Maddox still in concussion protocol, Jones is the only logical candidate to play in the slot for the Eagles Sunday against the Bills.

Yes, the same Sidney Jones who was benched Sunday in Dallas and never got off the bench.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz met with the media on Tuesday but declined to confirm that Jones will be the Eagles' starting slot corner Sunday in Buffalo.

"We’ll see," Schwartz said. “He can play that position. Obviously, Malcolm (Jenkins) can play that position … and then sometime we’ll ... get Cre’Von and Avonte back too, so we’ve got a lot of different players who can play in that position, but Sid started last year in that position and was able to hold that position, so we have confidence that whoever we put in there will be able to accomplish that role.

To recap:

Jones began the season rotating with Rasul Douglas opposite Ronald Darby.
He started three games after Darby got hurt.
He left the Packers game early with a hamstring injury.
He missed the Jets game with the hamstring.
He had a nightmarish game in the loss to the Vikings.
He was benched Sunday for the Cowboys.

Now he’s most likely your slot. Temporarily.

Jalen Mills and Douglas started outside Sunday night in Dallas with Scandrick in the slot. But the Eagles released Scandrick on Monday.

On Sunday, Mills and Douglas or Darby will start in Buffalo. Douglas and Darby don’t play in the slot, and Jones and Craig James are the only other healthy corners on the roster.

How far has Jones fallen in the Eagles’ cornerback hierarchy?

In the Cowboys game, it was James who got a handful of snaps outside while Jones — active and in uniform — stayed on the sidelines.

"He was in a backup role," Schwartz said. “We had an injury outside just for a couple plays. Craig was backing up the outside and he was backing up the inside, so he still had a role.

So Jones, the 43rd pick in the 2017 draft, is now behind an undrafted 23-year-old street free agent who has had two stints on the practice squad this year and has already been released once this year by the Eagles.

And after playing 175 snaps of outside cornerback the first month and a half of the season and 52 snaps outside just seven days earlier, he apparently suddenly lost the ability to play outside corner because he practiced inside during the week.

Jones wasn’t in the locker room on Tuesday while it was open to the media.

Jones is only 23. His career has been marked by inconsistency, injuries and now a benching. 

Now he’s a backup at a position where the Eagles’ two best options are about to return in the next couple weeks, and he’s not even practicing at the position he began the season.

This isn’t trending in the right direction.

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More on the Eagles

This has been Eagles' most embarrassing week since Chip Kelly's final days

This has been Eagles' most embarrassing week since Chip Kelly's final days

Had an Eagles team that entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations merely lost 37-10 in Dallas, people would rightly be pissed.

But this wasn’t just some blowout on the football field. It was the climax to the most embarrassing week for the Eagles organization since the Chip Kelly days — a humiliation felt inside the locker room, by the coaching staff and all the way up to the front office.

At least, you hope it was the climax. To recap, in the span of nine days:

• Zach Brown talked trash on Minnesota’s quarterback.

• The Eagles got dropped 38-20 by Minnesota.

• Coach Doug Pederson proclaimed “we’re gonna win” in Dallas.

• The Eagles cut Brown.

• After a weeks-long pursuit, the Rams, not the Eagles, traded for Jalen Ramsey.

• An anonymous Eagles player talked trash on Carson Wentz.

• The Eagles got crushed in Dallas.

• Lane Johnson claimed teammates are late for practices and meetings.

• A reporter claimed the anonymous Eagles player is Alshon Jeffery.

• The Eagles were accused of leaking the information to said reporter.

Am I missing anything? You could certainly point to some individual plays that stand out — the ridiculous fake field goal, blown coverage after blown coverage and whatever Sidney Jones was doing in Minnesota; or Malcolm Jenkins getting run over and Nelson Agholor’s “effort” in Dallas.

Blowouts happen, occasionally even to good teams. They can become rallying points, as we saw last season after the Eagles got smoked 48-7 in New Orleans, then proceeded to win six of seven games en route to a playoff rematch.

Blowouts in back-to-back weeks, on the other hand, are often a sign of far deeper fractures.

In the fog of everything else happening around the Eagles, the feeling at this very specific moment in time is more akin to Kelly’s final season in 2015, right after the team got rolled 45-17 by Tampa Bay and 45-14 by Detroit in consecutive weeks.

Jason Peters was pulling himself out of games left and right. DeMarco Murray was sliding rather than fighting for extra yards — and being criticized for it by an anonymous teammate. High-priced free agent cornerback Byron Maxwell was getting beat like a drum on the reg. Riley Cooper was still on the team despite using a racial slur two years earlier. Opponents routinely said they knew the Eagles’ plays before the offense ran them. And after winning an offseason power struggle with Howie Roseman, Kelly reshaped the team in his image, trading LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso and Nick Foles for Sam Bradford, among other head-scratchers.

Surely, that was a more embarrassing period of Eagles football than this. And yet, you don’t have to strain your eyes too hard to find some parallels.

That season ended with Kelly’s firing prior to the finale. I seriously doubt anything so drastic will happen here. Roseman and Pederson built a lot more cache after guiding the Eagles to a Super Bowl championship two years ago.

However, if the Eagles don’t turn things around on and off the football field this season, Roseman and Pederson will be facing some uncomfortable questions. And while it’s easy to make the cases that Roseman assembled an aging roster, that he hasn’t drafted well enough through the years, that it really shows when everybody keeps getting hurt, and that Pederson and his staff haven’t developed young players or properly used the “talent” at their disposal, there is potentially a much larger issue here.

How is it the core of a football team that went 13-3 and won it all with one of the most harmonious, accountable locker rooms you’ll ever see has become so unglued, with teammates ripping their own franchise quarterback going back to last season, and looks so unprepared to play on such alarmingly regular basis?

These seem more like the hallmarks of a Chip Kelly team, but for the last week-and-a-half, the only discernible difference is the Eagles aren’t being peppered with questions about their blatant disregard for time of possession.

NFL seasons are deceptively long, so it's plausible the Eagles plug the leaks and right the ship in the 10 weeks that remain, even reach the postseason. But if they don't, somebody will need to answer for this level of dysfunction.