Doug Pederson faces crucial decision with Miles Sanders

Doug Pederson faces crucial decision with Miles Sanders

How much Miles is too much Miles?

That’s a crucial question for Doug Pederson and his offensive staff once the NFL starts up again.

It’s always a tough call for head coaches when they have a talent like Miles Sanders. You want to get him the ball a lot because he’s so dangerous. But you don’t want to over-do it because we’ve all seen what happens to running backs that get too heavy a workload. 

They’re never the same again.

We all saw what Sanders is capable of last year. After starting the season mainly backing up Jordan Howard, he became the Eagles' lead back when Howard got hurt midway through the season and wound up leading all NFL rookies with 1,327 scrimmage yards on 229 touches — 179 carries, 50 receptions.

What does that mean for Sanders' future?

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Start here: No Eagle has averaged more than 11.9 carries or 12.9 touches per game in Pederson’s four years as Eagles head coach. Of course, he’s never had a talent like Sanders.

Some backs are built for a heavy workload. Ricky Watters averaged an NFL-leading 23.7 touches in his three years with the Eagles, but he could handle that. LeSean McCoy averaged 19.6 touches per game in an Eagles uniform, although not surprisingly that figure was much higher under Chip Kelly [22.1] than Andy Reid [18.2].

And we all know Pederson’s coaching philosophy is closely aligned to Reid’s.

Sanders played six full games last year without Howard, and that stretch gives us a pretty good idea what to expect over a full season.

In those six games — from the Patriots through the second Cowboys game — Sanders averaged 15.7 carries and 4.2 catches for 20 touches per game. During that span he averaged 4.6 yards per carry, 8.2 yards per catch and 107 yards scrimmage yards per game — 8th-most in the league.

Project that over a full season and you have 318 offensive touches — 251 carries, 67 catches and 1,704 yards from scrimmage.

I think that’s a fair estimate for next season. Maybe a tad high. Only five backs in the NFL last year had that many offensive touches — Christian McCaffrey [403], Ezekiel Elliott [355], Leonard Fournette [341], Nick Chubb [334] and Derrick Henry [321].

Brian Westbrook is a great comparison for Sanders. Similar build. Similar talent. And Reid didn’t give Westbrook 300 touches until his fifth season. In Reid’s ideal world, running back by committee not only keeps defenses off-balance, it protects a young back.

In his all-pro season in 2007, Westbrook had a career-high 368 touches. Then he had a huge drop-off in 2008, was hurt most of 2009 and finished his career as a part-time player with the 49ers in 2010. He was never the same after that 368-touch season.

You see it all the time. 

Increase a running back’s workload too much and it can do permanent damage. Just ask Rams fans. Todd Gurley led the NFL with 658 touches in 2017 and 2018, his production dropped dramatically last year, he got hurt and the Rams cut him.

A lot of this has to do with how high the Eagles are on Boston Scott. He showed over the last month of the season, when he averaged 15 touches and 88 scrimmage yards per game, that he is a viable No. 2 back.

That certainly takes pressure off Pederson to over-use Sanders.

The 2017 Super Bowl season really showed us how Pederson wants to use his running backs.

Five backs – Darren Sproles, Jay Ajayi, Wendell Smallwood, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement – had games with at least 12 touches that year. But none of them ever had a game with more than 17 touches.

Sanders is so talented there will be times Pederson nudges his workload up. Sanders had back-to-back 25-touch games late last year against the Redskins and Cowboys, but those were must-win games, Howard, Sproles and Clement were hurt and there weren’t a lot of options.

That made Sanders the first Eagle since McCoy in 2014 with consecutive 25-touch games and the first rookie since Steve Van Buren.

But those 25-touch games are going to be the exception. 

Sanders can do a lot of damage with 18 to 20 touches per game. Anything less isn't enough Miles. Anything more puts him at risk.

Getting the most out of Sanders in the long run means being careful how much you use him in the short run.

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A lost opportunity for Sidney Jones in Roob's 10 Observations

A lost opportunity for Sidney Jones in Roob's 10 Observations

A lost opportunity for Sidney Jones, an unbelievable Sam Bradford stat and the continuing saga of Reb Russell.

It's all right here in this weekend's Roob's 10 Eagles Observations! 

1. I keep trying to convince myself, "This will be the year we see the real Sidney Jones." And coming out of last year, I really believed Jones, going into Year 4, had a chance to really get his legs healthy this spring and then show everybody in minicamps, OTAs, training camp and the preseason games that he could hold down the CB2 opposite Darius Slay. But if the curtailed offseason and preseason hurts anybody the most, it's Jones. The Eagles have made it clear Avonte Maddox is the projected starter, and as long Maddox stays healthy I don't see how Sidney can win the job. Without any spring workouts or preseason games? Can Jones do enough just in a few weeks of training camp practice to beat out Maddox? I don't think so.

2. Who has the highest 4th-quarter passer rating among Eagles quarterbacks? Going back to 1994, as far back as the Pro Football Reference database logs quarter-by-quarter stats, here's the surprising answer (minimum of 100 4th-quarter attempts):

95.9 ... Sam Bradford

88.4 ... Michael Vick

84.5 ... Carson Wentz

83.6 ... Donovan McNabb

81.9 ... Nick Foles

76.9 ... Rodney Peele

76.7 ... Mark Sanchez

70.3 ... Ty Detmer

64.1 ... Bobby Hoying

62.7 ... Randall Cunningham

59.0 ... Koy Detmer 

(Remember, this only includes Randall's last two years with the Eagles) 

3. As good as T.O. was in 2004, he was on his way to an even bigger season in 2005 before he imploded and got himself suspended. Owens was 47-for-763 with 6 TDs after seven games, which put him on pace for 107 catches and 1,744 yards with 13 TDs. The only players in NFL history to reach those plateaus in a season are Jerry Rice and Isaac Bruce. T.O.'s 93.5 yards per game as an Eagle is 23 yards per game more than any other WR in franchise history. DeSean Jackson (69.7), Mike Quick (64.0), Irving Fryar (63.9) and Jeremy Maclin (63.6) are next.

4. If the NFL does wind up reducing rosters from 90 to 75 because of the curtailed or eliminated preseason and for social distancing purposes, the league needs to give each team the opportunity to retain the rights of some or all of the players they're forced to release. Maybe pay them a weekly reduced salary and let them participate in virtual meetings and remain part of the team without actually being at practice. It would be a shame to see the Eagles forced to cut ties with promising kids like Adrian Killians Jr., Grayland Arnold, Raequan Williams, Mike Warren, Sua Opeta or Deontay Burnett because of the current circumstances. The league and the NFLPA need to find a way to make sure that doesn't happen.

5. I just remembered the Eagles paid Nelson Agholor $9.387 million last year.

6. The Frankford Yellow Jackets won the 1926 NFL Championship, but by the early 1930s, they may have been the worst professional sports team in Philadelphia history. They won only 3 of their last 24 games and scored 7 or fewer points in 20 of those 24 games. 

7. What are the odds that the Eagles' two recent Hall of Famers — Brian Dawkins and Harold Carmichael — went to the same high school? Both graduated from Raines High in Jacksonville. Raines has produced numerous other NFL players, including Lito Sheppard, Shawn Jefferson and Ken Burrough, along with baseball's Vince Coleman. Surprisingly, 16 high schools produced multiple Hall of Famers, including one — George Washington in L.A. — that produced three (James Lofton, Hugh McElhenny, Bill Walsh). 

8. Carson Wentz's 32 wins are 15th-most in NFL history by a quarterback in his first four seasons. He's also one of only five of the top 20 that didn't win a playoff game during those four years. The others are Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton, Steve Grogan, Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer. Ryan won one in his 5th season, Manning in his 6th and Palmer in his 14th. Dalton and Grogan never did win one. One of these years, Wentz will win one. Right?

9. Donovan McNabb had already won four playoff games and reached two NFC Championship Games by the end of his fourth season.

10. Everyone seemed to enjoy last week's excerpt from newspaper coverage of the Eagles' first game in franchise history in 1933, so here's an excerpt from the Inquirer story reporting the first win in franchise history, 6-0 over the Reds later in 1933: 

"Tall, slab-sided, loose-limbed Swede Hanson, the new Galloping Ghost of the commercial gridiron, raced over the last white stripe today, as the Philadelphia Eagles achieved their first conquest of the season, 6-0. Hanson, lean and lank and lantern jawed, was the hero of this game, as he has starred in all of the frays in which the Eagles have been a part. For two periods, the Birds and their Red foes battered away at the line or sought the air but all in vain. In the third quarter, however, the Wraymen turned into a devastating horde." 

The story goes on to describe Hanson's touchdown, the game's only score: 

"It was fourth down now and the goal line beckoning in tantalizing fashion straight ahead. Then Hanson and (Reb) Russell outwtitted their foes. Reb came tearing in as if to shoot off tackle. The Reds tumbled through upon the former Purple hero, however, who was ready for this emergency. As the gang tried to pile up, Russell flipped a lateral, straight and unerring, right into Hanson's arms. Like a flash, the Swede lighted out for the end, slipped past two tackles and went over the line."

Wraymen? Really? Remember, that team's coach was Lud Wray. Guess I should start calling the Eagles the Dougmen?

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Report: NFLPA board unanimously recommends to cancel entire preseason 

Report: NFLPA board unanimously recommends to cancel entire preseason 

Just two days after we learned the NFL’s plan to cut the 2020 preseason in half, the NFL Players Association is reportedly recommending that the league cancel the entire preseason. 

The NFLPA’s board of representatives voted unanimously on the recommendation, according to ESPN. 

On Wednesday, ProFootballTalk reported that the NFL was cutting the preseason in half because of the coronavirus pandemic, keeping Weeks 2 and 3 but eliminating Weeks 1 and 4. Other reports indicated that those preseason games would be pushed back later into August. 

If the Eagles end up playing the original Weeks 2 and 3 of their preseason schedule, they will face the Dolphins on the road and the Patriots at home. They were originally scheduled to be at Indianapolis in Week 1 and at home against the Jets in Week 4, but those games have already been canceled. 

The NFL is still planning for training camps to begin on July 28 with rookies and select vets allowed to report earlier. 

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said earlier this offseason that his team will need the entire five-to-six-week training camp to get ready for the 2020 season, especially after missing the entire spring workout schedule because of the pandemic. 

The Eagles are scheduled to begin their 2020 regular season in Washington on Sept. 13. 

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