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Eagles’ Jalen Hurts, Miles Sanders could be in for big game against Cowboys’ shaky run defense

Sanders is 190 yards away from becoming the Eagles’ first 1,000-yard rusher since LeSean McCoy had 1,319 yards in 2014.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts hands off to running back Miles Sanders against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts hands off to running back Miles Sanders against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Miles Sanders doesn’t like talking about stats.

The Eagles’ running back has consistently expressed disinterest in his number of carries, touchdowns, or rushing yards at various points during this season. Whether it’s a facade or not, Sanders said he was unaware of his 810 yards on the ground when asked if reaching 1,000 before the season’s end was important to him.

“I’m aware that we’ve got to win this week,” Sanders said. “I’m aware if we win this week and everything handles itself, we’ve got a chance to win the NFC East next game, so that’s what I’m aware of.”

If Sanders is in fact quietly checking his football reference page when away from prying eyes, Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys will likely be one he has circled on the calendar. Not just because the Eagles could keep their playoff hopes alive with a win and a Washington loss, but because the Cowboys have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Dallas has given up a league-high 2,265 rushing yards and is ranked 25th against the run by Football Outsiders.

Sanders is two solid games away from becoming the Eagles’ first 1,000-yard rusher since LeSean McCoy had 1,319 yards in 2014.

The team drafted the former Penn State standout hoping he’d be the featured back they’ve lacked since McCoy was traded to the Buffalo Bills in the 2014 offseason, but Sanders has gotten in this position a little differently. He’s ranked 20th in the league with 149 carries, but has 5.4 yards per carry, which is third among running backs.

The Eagles have made a point of expanding Sanders’ role a bit since turning to rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts two weeks ago. In those two games, Sanders has 179 rushing yards, largely thanks to an 82-yard touchdown run against the Saints in Week 14.

Sanders’ presence may be helping ease the burden on Hurts, but he also has enjoyed extra space because of the rookie’s threat as a runner. The former Alabama and Oklahoma star typically draws at least one defender on zone running plays, allowing the offensive line to leave one player unblocked.

Sanders, 24, said the running game will be a priority against Dallas, but gave the Cowboys’ run defense some credit regardless of the numbers.

“The running game’s very important,” Sanders said. “Just getting it started and getting it rolling, it’s gonna open up a lot of stuff for us as a team, and having a quarterback like Jalen where he can use his feet and pull it when he needs to pull it, just attacking the defense, staying on them, being aggressive in the run game I think is going to help us regardless. Whatever we want to do, but it’s still a great team over there, still a good football team, still got NFL players on the team, so nothing’s gonna be easy despite the stats and whatever it is.”

Hurts had 109 rushing yards in his first start against the No. 1-ranked Saints defense and followed it up with 63 yards against the Cardinals. The Cowboys will easily present the worst defensive group Hurts has seen in the last three weeks, ranked ninth in yards allowed and 20th against the pass by Football Outsiders.

There’s reason to believe Hurts could also be in for a decent day. The Cowboys have struggled against quarterbacks who factor into the running game this year, surrendering 94 rushing yards and a touchdown to Lamar Jackson in Week 13 and 74 yards and another rushing score for Kyler Murray in Week 6.

“I think we’re facing a pretty good Cowboys team,” Hurts said. “They play well. They’ve been playing well, and I have a lot of respect for the players that they have. So, I think, as a whole, we’ve got to come out and execute, kind of find out how we want to attack them this week and just execute.”