Roob's Observations: How smart coaching boosted Miles Sanders' value


How Doug Pederson and Nick Sirianni helped Miles Sanders become more valuable, the Eagles’ record pace on fourth down and Ben Hawkins’ forgotten brilliance.

It’s a Week 15 edition of Roob’s Random Eagles Observations!  

1. One thing to keep in mind when weighing whether or not the Eagles should re-sign Miles Sanders is how smart both Doug Pederson and Nick Sirianni have been using him. Sanders has averaged 12.9 carries per game in his four NFL seasons, and while there have been times you'd like to see him get the ball more, when you see other elite backs start fading in their mid-to-late 20s, it makes sense. Sanders has the 10th-most rushing yards by active running backs in their first four seasons but only the 18th -most rushing attempts. He’s only had three games in his life with more than 20 carries and that on top of his limited playing time in college — he had just 276 carries in his entire college career — could really extend his career. In seven seasons since 2016, he’s had just 960 carries. Guys like Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliott have had over 1,600 during the same span. Sanders has shown absolutely no sign of slowing down. Doesn’t mean he won’t, but his value is definitely higher than other running backs coming off their rookie contracts because of how he’s been used. That will raise his price but also make him a safer signing than other backs with his experience. That’s also encouraging going into the postseason. So many running backs who are overused are useless down the stretch and in the postseason. Over the last month, Alvin Kamara is at 2.7 yards per carry, Saquon Barkley 2.9, Dameon Pierce 3.0, Dalvin Cook 3.3, Nick Chubb 3.5 and Derrick Henry 3.8. Sanders? He's averaged 5.9 yards per carry the last month — highest among all NFL running backs. You want your best players at their best when the games are the biggest, and it sure looks like the Eagles have that.

2. Jalen Hurts’ first 16 career starts: 58 percent accuracy, 210 passing yards per game, 18 TDs, 11 INTs, 82.1 passer rating. Hurts’ last 16 starts: 68 percent, 242 passing yards per game, 25 TDs, 4 INTs, 107.1 passer rating. 

3. A lot of people have been wondering how Nick Sirianni will handle the last game or two of the season if the Eagles are able to clinch the No. 1 seed early. Everything he’s done since he got here points to resting his key guys as much as possible. Does that mean not playing them at all the last week or two? It just might. Think about some of the moves he’s made: No mandatory minicamp. Shorter training camp practices. Walkthroughs on Wednesdays. Rest days for veterans on Thursday and Friday. Reduced snaps for older players. His whole philosophy is based on keeping players off their feet as much as possible and reducing the chances for injuries. And 12-1 with a healthy roster says it obviously works. If the Eagles do clinch next weekend, they would have a month before they open play in the postseason. Is that too long to rest your starters? In 2004, the Eagles clinched with two weeks left. With the Eagles sitting at 13-1, Andy Reid barely played the starters the next week against the Rams and then didn’t play them at all against the Bengals, both lopsided losses. It was a big story in Philly that week — Will the Eagles be rusty? Was it too much time off? Will they lose the competitive edge? The answer was no then and it’s no now. They were up 21-7 on the Vikings early in the second quarter of the conference semifinal round game and rolled past the Vikings and Falcons to reach the Super Bowl. It’s all about getting to Jan. 21 or Jan. 22 as healthy as possible.

4. The Eagles have converted 76 percent of their fourth downs this year — 19 of 25. That’s the highest on record by a team attempting at least 25 fourth downs in a season — the NFL has tracked 3rd- and 4th-down conversions since 1984. We all know why the Eagles are so good on fourth down. Jalen Hurts is 12-for-13 on keepers on fourth down, and he’s 6-for-9 for 103 yards, two TDs, no INTs and a 144.9 passer rating when he throws on fourth down. Hurts’ 12 rushing first downs on fourth down are five more than anybody else. His six passing conversions are 5th-most in the league. Overall, Hurts has converted 18 fourth downs. Jacoby Brissett (12) and Trevor Lawrence (11) are the only other QBs with at least 10.

5. Ben Hawkins’ 1967 season has to be one of the most remarkable and underrated seasons in Eagles history. After catching just 14 passes as a rookie 3rd-round pick out of Arizona State in 1966, Hawkins blew up in 1967, with 59 catches for 1,265 yards (still 5th-most in Eagles history), 10 touchdowns and a ridiculous 21.4 average. Hawkins somehow didn’t make the Pro Bowl, but he led the NFL in yards, was 5th in yards per catch and 3rd in touchdowns. More than half a century later, his 90.4 yards per game figure remains a franchise record. T.O. averaged 109.0 in 2005 but only lasted seven games. Hawkins, who grew up five miles from where MetLife Stadium now stands, remains one of only 12 players in NFL history with 1,250 yards, 10 or more touchdowns and a 21 yards-per-catch average in a season. And he did it in 14 games. Hawkins never matched those numbers, but in six full seasons with the Eagles he averaged 751 yards and scored 32 TDs. In Eagles history, he ranks second to Tommy McDonald with 18.3 yards per catch and 50 years after he last played in the NFL, he’s still 11th in Eagles history in both receiving yards and TD catches. Hawkins played with some bad quarterbacks, was never on a playoff team, never made a Pro Bowl. But he had a terrific career here and his monster 1967 season shouldn’t be forgotten.

6. Jalen Hurts has the highest passer rating in the NFL at 108.4, and if he finishes atop the rankings, he’ll become only the second quarterback 24 or younger to lead the NFL in passer rating since the mid-1980s. The only other one was Nick Foles in 2013. Technically, Hurts will be younger on the final day of the regular season (24, years, 152 days) than Foles at the end of the 2013 season (24, 343), so Hurts would be the youngest passer rating leader since Dan Marino, who was just 22 when he led the NFL with a 108.9 rating as a rookie in 1984. The only Eagles other than Foles to lead the NFL in passer rating are Tommy Thompson in 1948 and 1949 and Adrian Burk in 1954 — before passer rating was invented.

7. The first six weeks of the season, Britain Covey ranked 23rd out of 26 punt returners (averaging at least one return per game) at 6.1 yards per return. Over the last eight weeks, he ranks 4th at 13.6 yards per return.

8. For the Eagles to go 4-0 and average 426 yards and 35 points per game without Dallas Goedert speaks volumes about Shane Steichen’s ability to adjust and get the most out of his personnel. While Goedert was out, Quez Watkins got more involved in the offense — 14 catches and two TDs in the last four games — the backs got more involved in the passing game (10 yards per game with Goedert, 25 per game without him), and even tight ends Jack Stoll and Grant Calcaterra showed up with a respectable 10 catches for 109 yards in Goedert’s absence. In the four games the Eagles didn’t have Goedert, they had the No. 1 offense in the NFL, and Jalen Hurts had an NFL-best 111.8 passer rating. That’s an injury that would have derailed a lot of offenses, a lot of teams. The Eagles shrugged it off and just kept rolling. Now he’s back and they should be better than ever.

9. With six sacks against the Titans and seven against the Giants, the Eagles have put together consecutive games with six sacks for the first time since 1998, when they had six in a 17-12 win over Washington and six in a 13-10 loss to the Chargers. They’ve also got a streak of seven straight games with at least three sacks, and that’s their longest since a 10-game streak over the 1993 and 1994 seasons. 

10. Every time the Eagles play in Chicago, I can’t help thinking back to the first Eagles playoff game I covered: The Fog Bowl, the Eagles' conference semifinal playoff game against the Bears on New Year’s Eve 1988. The fog rolled in off Lake Michigan just before halftime, and it was so hard to see from the press box, the NFL let the writers onto the field for the entire second half.  And it’s easy to blame the Eagles’ 20-12 loss on the fog, but they weren’t going to win that game either way. The Bears were up 17-9 when the fog rolled in, and the Eagles squandered numerous scoring opportunities both before and after the thick blanket of fog engulfed the stadium. They had drives to the Bears’ 4, 11, 13, 24, 24 and 25-yard lines without scoring a touchdown before halftime and then drives to the 11, 16 and 17 after halftime without a TD. That’s an astounding nine drives down to the Chicago 25 or deeper without a touchdown (four field goals, one missed field goal, one unsuccessful fourth down and three interceptions). Plus two other drives to the 37 and 43 that resulted in punts. The Eagles moved the ball just fine between the 20's in the foggy second half — they had 174 yards, 139 passing yards and 11 first downs after halftime. They just couldn’t score, thanks to penalties, turnovers and mistakes. The fog is a convenient excuse but it’s not why they lost.

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