Miles Sanders has been discovered. He can't sneak up on anybody anymore. And he knows it.
Sanders’ receiving yards are down 24 percent from last year, and he knows exactly why.
As a rookie, Sanders caught 50 passes for 509 passes and three touchdowns.
In four games so far this year, he’s got just 11-for-97 receiving and no touchdowns, which puts him on pace for 41 catches for only 363 yards.
Sanders had 16 catches of 15 yards or more last year and five of at least 32 yards. He has two catches of 15 yards this year, and his longest gain is a 28-yarder.
The element of surprise, it appears, is gone. “It’s much different than last year because people didn’t know about me and I was kind of just taking advantage of that and us as a team were taking advantage of that,” Sanders said Wednesday. “The coaches believe I can win any 1-on-1 battle with a linebacker so that’s why I was so effective last year.”
Sanders was 12th in the NFL in catches and 7th in yards among running backs last year.
He’s 27th in catches and 26th in yards this year.
And the 1-on-1 matchups with linebackers? They’ve disappeared as defenses recognize what a mismatch that is and allocate more resources to account for the explosive second-year back.
“Now that I have the film … teams are playing me much more differently and aggressively,” he said. “Linebackers meet me at the line of scrimmage, and as I go on the routes d-ends are hitting me and then linebackers and safeties are playing on and off of me too, so it’s just up to me to figure out different ways to get loose and get free and create separation.”
Sanders was a huge part of the receiving game last year, and his production helped the Eagles offset an inexperienced wide receiver group.
The Eagles are again inexperienced at wide receiver and also missing Dallas Goedert, but Carson Wentz and Sanders just haven’t been able to connect like they did last year.
When Sanders has been open, Wentz has missed him a couple times and Sanders has a couple drops as well.
“I do think after last year teams are cognizant of where Miles is,” Wentz said. “I think they're smarter with what players they're putting on him when it goes man coverage or aware of him of how they're blitzing that side or whatever. So teams are aware of it, but it's definitely something we can keep building and keep getting better (at).”
Sanders has looked better than ever running the ball.
He’s 5th in the NFL with 79.0 yards per game, 4th with 5.1 yards per attempt and 10th with 18 first rushing downs despite missing the opener.
But he wants to be a complete back, and that means figuring out how to deal with the coverages he’s seeing and how to get back to being that big-time playmaker in the passing game.
“Yeah, just watching the film the previous weeks (to see) how they’re playing me and just trying to figure out different ways where I can get free releases and not get grabbed or chipped,” he said. “And as the linebackers meet me at the line of scrimmage still making them miss and going into my route, staying effective in that aspect.”
Sanders last year became only the 15th rookie running back since 1970 with 50 catches and 500 yards.
Teams adjusted, and now it’s up to Sanders to find ways to adjust back and be the receiving weapon the Eagles know he can be.