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Eagles’ Miles Sanders is on track to return from injured reserve

Sanders could be active for the Eagles on Sunday against the Saints if he looks good in this week's practices.

Eagles running back Miles Sanders runs with the football against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, October 24, 2021 in Las Vegas.
Eagles running back Miles Sanders runs with the football against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, October 24, 2021 in Las Vegas.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The Eagles have a conundrum at running back, but coach Nick Sirianni doesn’t seem overly concerned.

On Wednesday, the team started the 21-day practice window for tailback Miles Sanders, who has been on the injured reserve list the past three weeks with a low ankle sprain.

If healthy, Sanders is the team’s starter, according to Sirianni.

“He’s one of our better players, so he’s definitely going to go if he looks healthy,” Sirianni said.

“I think when you have some guys that have been running the ball well, that’s a good problem to have.”

Sanders was originally injured during the team’s Week 7 loss at Las Vegas. Prior to his injury, Sanders was a neglected piece under Sirianni’s evolving offense.

Despite being tied for seventh most scrimmage yards per touch (5.6) in the league since 2019 — when he was drafted in the second round by the Eagles — Sanders averaged just nine carries per game.

Coincidentally, the Eagles started incorporating the run game at a much higher and effective rate following his injury. Backups Boston Scott and Jordan Howard have filled in admirably; rookie Kenneth Gainwell has also been used situationally. Since Week 8, the Eagles are second in the league in scoring and fourth in total yards.

Over that span, Howard is averaging 70 rushing yards per game with three touchdowns, while Scott is averaging 60 yards with two scores. The most staggering stat: both tailbacks are averaging more than 5 yards per carry.

Sirianni has balanced the run-pass ratio by reverting to a traditional run-first game plan. His efforts have done wonders for quarterback Jalen Hurts and the rest of the offense. Since Week 8, Hurts is first among NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards (186), second in passer rating (106.2), and eighth in total first downs (36).

“I’ve continued to see him make strides,” Sirianni said of Hurts.

Sirianni continued: “It speaks to the depth we have here in the running back room, in particular. We know it’s a long season. You’re going to have some bumps and bruises throughout the way. So, it’s important that the guys who step in for the starters are ready to go.”

The Eagles insist they won’t rush Sanders back, but if he looks good during the next two practices, it’s possible they elevate him from IR for Sunday’s game versus the Saints.

The upcoming Week 11 matchup is particularly interesting considering how effective Sanders was last year versus New Orleans. On Dec. 13, 2020, Sanders finished with 115 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Saints.

“We’ve played really good football the past three weeks; we’re really balanced,” right tackle Lane Johnson said. “The rushing attack is the best we’ve had here in awhile. Everyone can run the ball. [Sanders] is a tremendous player. It’s been really fun.”

With or without Sanders, the Saints pose a tough challenge for the Eagles backfield. Led by defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport and linebackers Kwon Alexander and Demario Davis, the Saints are the NFL’s best rushing defense, allowing only 3.1 yards per carry.

It’ll be a collision of strength vs. strength involving the Eagles (4-6) rushing offense and Saints (5-4) rushing defense at Lincoln Financial Field.

“They have a very good D-line, very good linebackers, probably the most active linebacker unit we’ll see,” Johnson said. “It’s a tremendous matchup for me. They break up a lot of run-game scheme.”

Eagles switch practice schedule

Rather than holding a normal padded practice, Sirianni opted to have a team walk-through Wednesday afternoon at NovaCare Complex.

Sirianni’s reasoning behind the change was centered around the team’s late-season bye (Week 14). The Eagles, along with the Colts, Dolphins, and Patriots, have the latest bye week in the league.

“I want to take care of these guys’ bodies and make sure they’re ready to be 100% fresh on Sunday,” Sirianni said. “The message is that we’re not going to be out there running around and moving around, but we need to make sure we’re getting better in the sense of let’s make sure we’re mentally ready to go here. We’re full speed to the snap in walk-through.

“That means your mind is working, break the huddle in the same aspect; your mind is working full speed; the snap happens, now we go to a walk-through. It’s just a reminder of how important walk-throughs are to us, being ready mentally and that your bodies are going to be ready physically because we are taking this break.”

Slay earns NFC Defensive Player of the Week honor

Following his 83-yard fumble return for a touchdown, cornerback Darius Slay was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. It is Slay’s fourth POW award over his nine-year career.

Slay leads the team in interceptions (two) and is second in passes defensed (three). He has 38 tackles and two fumble recoveries and two touchdowns. Since being selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, Slay leads the NFL with 113 passes defensed, according to Pro Football Reference.

“It’s a blessing to be on that list,” Slay said. “I’m going to try to keep building on it. ... A lot of the home games have been really tough. We’ve played three of the four last teams (San Francisco, Kansas City, Tampa Bay) that went to the Super Bowl.”