LAS VEGAS — Miles Sanders suffered what had to be the cruelest of injuries, because after so much neglect, the Eagles finally built a game plan around the running back.
But on the second offensive series, Sanders left with an ankle injury. Eagles coach Nick Sirianni didn’t have an update after the game, but all the signs that the third-year tailback suffered a significant injury were there:
Sanders got carried off the field, then carted inside, and with a towel draped over his head.
He left with the Eagles ahead, 7-0, and before the Raiders reeled off 30 straight points on their way to a 33-22 victory at Allegiant Stadium. It’s unlikely his sole presence would have altered the outcome. The 2-5 Eagles are clearly a broken team in all phases.
But Sanders’ exit didn’t help, especially since Sirianni had seemingly finally acquiesced to the pleas of so many outside his inner circle.
“He’s a big-time player,” quarterback Jalen Hurts said of Sanders. “He was definitely getting rolling and getting active early in the game.”
After averaging just four first-half carries in the first six games, Sanders had five on the Eagles’ opening drive. Four came with Hurts under center — something Sirianni had been reluctant to do — which helped set up a 24-yard play-action pass to Dallas Goedert.
A catch-and-run 13-yard touchdown by Kenneth Gainwell capped the series and gave the Eagles their first six-point play on their first possession since Week 1. But the run-heavy drive seemed almost like a novelty after the fact. The Eagles would eventually have to throw to play catch-up, but for most of the first half they either had the lead or were tied, and the play-calling still leaned on Hurts in the shotgun.
“We still wanted to be able to run the football,” Sirianni said. He added: “You just can’t abandon it when one guy goes out. It’s got to be next man up.”
But the next man up — Gainwell — fumbled with one minute and 30 seconds left in the first half, and rather than heading to the locker room down one score or less, the Eagles trailed, 17-7.
That turnover, ultimately, may have played a role in Sirianni’s onside kick gamble with the opening kick of the second half. The coach later explained that Jonathan Gannon’s defense’s inability to get stops was a factor, but he also wanted to be aggressive.
“I would do it again,” Sirianni said.
But he might as well have dropped all his chips on double zero at the Bellagio. The NFL has taken much of the chance out of the play, and Jake Elliott’s attempted drag — it worked in practice, per safety Rodney McLeod — was easily snapped up by the Raiders’ Alec Ingold.
Sirianni’s desperation is understandable. Gannon’s passive scheme was mostly responsible for Sunday’s loss. Each week it seems one unit takes its turn. The offense wasn’t sharp by any means. But the Raiders had the ball for 17 of the first 30 minutes.
Derek Carr, overall, completed 31 of 34 passes for an eye-popping 91 percent.
Eagles coaches had spoken all week about tweaking their schemes after the mini-bye allowed for self-scouting. Sirianni, at least, gave it the old college try. Gannon seemed to miss the memo.
The most critical Sirianni got of his defensive coordinator was to say the defense wasn’t playing aggressive enough. But the coach declined to place any blame on personnel, a response brought to you by the partnership of Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman.
“I think we got everybody in our building that we need,” Sirianni said.
Sirianni, of course, can’t throw his players under the bus or question his bosses, but the draft and free agent busts by Roseman can’t be deleted from the equation of why the Eagles are currently a hot mess.
But Sirianni continued to struggle in the game management department. His decision to accept a holding penalty on the Raiders’ drive was errant because Carr had left the field to be replaced by the punt team.
Sirianni said he accepted because his chart said he would have gone for it on fourth-and-3 at the opposing team’s 45. But he should have waited to see what the Raiders were planning before he made his decision.
Carr converted with a 43-yard pass to Zay Jones. But Avonte Maddox saved Sirianni further embarrassment when he caught a tip-drill interception at the 3-yard line.
Nevertheless, the Eagles offense couldn’t capitalize. They drove out to the 26-yard line, but Sanders went down when he was dropped behind the line on another busted screen pass. He attempted to hop off the field, but fell to the turf.
Hurts threw incomplete — the third down another screen call — on the next two plays.
Hurts completed only 5 of 10 passes by the break, and 18 of 34 overall for 236 yards, most of which came long after the outcome was decided.
“I believe so,” Sirianni said when asked if Hurts is accurate enough. “Again, we still got to get him in some situations where he’s staying in the pocket. We got to be able to move him enough to hit some things down the field. … I thought he was probably average to above average.”
Sirianni didn’t come right out and say it, but indications all week were that the run game would have rushes from under center to ignite Sanders early and to take pressure off Hurts, who was responsible for an NFL-high 85 percent of the offense in the Eagles’ first six games.
But after Sanders left, and the Eagles fell behind, it was mostly back to the same-old, same-old. Hurts in the shotgun, run plays on zone reads or run-pass options, and the quarterback dropping and often running around in the backfield because he either left early, didn’t see the field or there was pressure.
And with Sanders now likely out for an extended period, it could be more of the same from here on out. At least the third-year tailback — and run-thirsty Eagles fans — got that one drive.