philadelphia — Eagles left tackle Jason Peters smiled when asked about the contrasting styles of running backs Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard following a 34-27 Week 4 win against the Green Bay Packers Thursday.
“You’ve got the quicks [with Sanders] and then you’ve got the pound with Howard,” he said. “They complement each other real well.”
That combination gave the Packers fits. The Eagles racked up 176 yards on the ground. Howard finished with 15 rushes for 87 yards and two touchdowns, while the quick-cutting Sanders had 11 carries for 72 yards. Different styles, similar success.
“I wish I could move like that, move the way [Sanders] does,” Howard told reporters. “Most of the time I’ve just got to run through people to get my yards. Gotta do it the tough way. He makes it look easy.”
The Eagles were not exactly facing a juggernaut rush defense, to be fair. Green Bay came in ranked 25th in yards per game, yielding about 130 yards on average. Still, there was a feeling leaving Green Bay that what Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s offense found at Lambeau Field could be carried over to future weeks.
Sanders’ development is part of what drives that assessment. The rookie out of Penn State was bouncing too many runs outside early on, particularly Week 2 against Atlanta, and has since started finding the creases that the Eagles’ offensive line is opening up for him. According to guard Brandon Brooks, the communication was ratcheted up at practice leading into the Packers game, with the O-line telling the backs: “Hey! This is where you need to run it, this is where we’re blocking it.” Sanders had the best rushing day of his young career, shaking off a two-fumble performance against the Detroit Lions the week before.
“They couldn’t stop us, so it was a no-brainer to just keep pounding the ball, and that opened up more stuff when we had to pass the ball,” Sanders said. “Big thanks to the O-line, though. You’ve got to talk to them. They played their ass off the whole game, opening holes up for us.”
Howard, meanwhile, has seen an increase in touches each week. His 115 total yards were more than double his previous high this season. He is clearly getting more comfortable in the Eagles’ system.
Running backs coach Duce Staley has gotten into more of a rhythm when it comes to his group’s rotation, which is here to stay.
“Next week it may be a lot of Jordan and a lot of Miles, and the week after that it may just be Jordan sprinkled in with Miles, you never know,” Staley said. “But all of them know there’s a rotation constantly going.”
Pederson said a sizable dose of the ground game is “a little bit of a recipe for our offense” and players in the locker room agreed. That doesn’t mean it will always be as balanced (33 runs, 27 passes) or effective as it was against Green Bay, but the ground game is being looked at as an emerging strength for this team, and the Eagles plan to utilize it — especially now that Howard and Sanders are finding their groove.
“I know we’ve got one of the best running games with Howard and Miles,” Peters said. “Once we get those guys going up front, we can lean on pretty much anybody.”