Eagles

Miles Sanders’ surprising role isn’t surprising to him

Miles Sanders’ surprising role isn’t surprising to him

During his career at Penn State, Miles Sanders definitely wasn’t known for his ability as a pass-catcher. 

Now he’s catching balls like a receiver in the NFL. 

“That’s what I’ve been trying to showcase since I go there,” Sanders said. 

It’s working. 

While Sanders has had some trouble getting going as a runner between the tackles, he’s surprisingly making a huge impact in the receiving game and has been a nice complement to Jordan Howard, who appears to be the new lead back

On Sunday against the Jets, Sanders had four catches for 49 yards and through five games, he has 10 catches for 133 yards. 

Sanders in 36 games at Penn State: 32 catches, 193 yards (6.0) 
Sanders in five games in the NFL: 10 catches, 133 yards (13.3) 

“That’s what I was planning on doing,” Sanders said. “Just really showing everybody that I’ve got the hands to do it. I really didn’t get the chance to showcase it at Penn State. Trying to add that to my toolbox, being effective in the passing game.”

In five games, Sanders already has three catches of 30-plus yards, which accounts for half of the Eagles’ 30-plus-yard catches this season. While that probably speaks more to their lack of a downfield attack without DeSean Jackson, it’s still impressive that Sanders is having this kind of impact as a receiver. 

He’s one of the few players on the offense right now with the speed to separate from defenders. 

This was the first play of the Eagles’ second drive on Sunday. The 36-yard pickup came on an alert from Wentz, who saw the linebacker and defensive end switch coverage responsibilities. Good recognition from film study. That left 277-pound Kyle Phillips to cover Sanders and Wentz delivered a perfect pass. 

“Wentz recognized it and told me to be ready,” Sanders said. 

It was just a simple wheel route, but Sanders used his speed, getting up to 19.45 mph on the play, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, for a big gain. 

Here’s a list of every rookie running back in the last five years to have as many receiving yards as Sanders through their first five games: Saquon Barkley, Nyheim Hines, Christian McCaffrey, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Tarik Cohen, Duke Johnson, David Johnson. 

All those other guys were much more accomplished receivers coming out of college, so it’s surprising to see Sanders’ name among them. Well, surprising to most. 

“Watching him in training camp and all the practices and stuff, I saw he could catch the ball pretty well,” Howard said. “He can gain separation from the defender, so I knew we could take advantage of that.”

The last Eagles’ rookie RB with as many receiving yards in first five games was Junior Tautalatasi back in 1986. 

The Eagles seem to have found a nice balance between Howard and Sanders; each played 29 snaps on Sunday. Doug Pederson intimated that Howard will be the lead back going forward, but they can’t completely telegraph what they’re doing — meaning they can’t just pass to Sanders and run with Howard all the time — but that formula seems to be working. 

These two pieces seem pretty complementary. And Sanders’ role just happens to be something that’s completely new for him. 



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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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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.