EAGLES

What Nick Sirianni has been getting wrong in the red zone

EAGLES
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Think back and try to remember a time when Boston Scott was stopped near the goal-line.

You probably can’t. Because it almost never happens.

Scott is one of the NFL’s most effective goal-line runners, and the numbers say he should have a bigger role when the Eagles have the football deep in the red zone.

And that Miles Sanders, as gifted as he is, should have a smaller role.

Scott has nine career rushing attempts inside the opposing 5-yard-line and has scored seven touchdowns, including two Sunday in the win over the Lions.

That’s 78 percent success, which is twice the league average of 38 percent according to figures from Stathead’s play finder tool.

Since 2019 – Scott’s first year as an active player – only two running backs have a higher conversion percentage inside the 5-yard-line. J.K. Dobbins of the Ravens is 8-for-9 for 89 percent and James Robinson of the Jaguars is 9-for-11 for 82 percent. Two quarterbacks are also over 80 percent – Ryan Tannehill (9-for-10, 90 percent) and Sam Darnold (7-for-8, 88 percent).

The interesting thing is that Dobbins and Robinson are both starting running backs, although Dobbins is hurt this year. But Scott is a situational player who has been a backup to Sanders his first two seasons and this year didn’t even get an offensive touch until Sanders hurt his ankle in the Raiders game.

The analytics also show that Jordan Howard is very good in short-yardage situations. He’s scored on 11 of 22 attempts since joining the Eagles in 2019, again well above the league average of 38 percent. Including his three years with the Bears, Howard has gotten into the end zone on 49 percent of his runs from the 5 and in (26 of 53).

 

On Sunday, we saw Scott and Howard both score twice from inside the 5, Scott with touchdown runs of 1 and 3 yards and Howard with TD runs of 2 and 4 yards.

It was the first time in 56 years the Eagles have had four TD runs of less than five yards in the same game. On Oct. 10, 1965, in a 35-24 win over the Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Earl Gros had a 3-yarder, King Hill 1- and 2-yard touchdowns and Timmy Brown a 3-yarder.

“They hit it,” Jason Kelce said. “Boston might be small but he hits that hole hard as hell. And Jordan is not small and he hits it hard as hell. They have a knack for finding little creases. You don’t need to spring a big run. It’s a little different down there. All you need is just a little window and if you hit that thing hard, it’s going to be hard to be stopped for one or two yards. They both have a knack for it, a feel for it.”

Sanders is a very good running back, but he’s never been particularly effective in goal-line situations. In his career, he’s gotten 20 chances from the 5 in and scored only six times for 30 percent, which is well under that 38 percent league average. Among 77 backs with at least eight chances since 2019, his 30 percent TD rate ranks 67th.

All of this raises the question why Nick Sirianni never used Scott or Howard in short-yardage situations until Sanders got hurt seven games into the season. Neither had a single rushing attempt this year until Sanders got hurt two weeks ago.

In three tries this year from the 5 and in, Sanders has gained minus-1, minus-3 and minus-4 yards.

Close to the goal-line, power, decisiveness, vision and balance are more important than speed. And those are all traits that Scott and Howard have.

Here are overall rushing totals since 2019 for Sanders, Scott, Howard and Jalen Hurts from the 5-yard-line and in:

Scott: 9 carries, 16 yards, 7 TDs, 1.78 yards per carry Howard: 22 carries, 31 yards, 11 TDs, 1.41 yards per carry Hurts: 8 carries, 4 yards, 3 TDs, 0.50 yards per carry Sanders: 20 carries, 6 yards, 3 TDs, 0.30 yards per carry

Of the 77 backs with eight or more tries since 2019, Scott’s 1.78 yards per carry inside the 5 is 8th-highest, Howard’s 1.41 is 20th-highest, Hurts’ 0.50 is 66th and Sanders’ 0.30 is 71st.

Giving the ball to Sanders may be the best way to get down to the goal-line, but no matter how you look at it, Scott and Howard are the Eagles’ best options if you want to get in.

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