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Eagles turn to Boston Scott again to fill Miles Sanders' role as lead running back

Scott helped save the Eagles' season last year with his impressive play in two late-season wins over the Giants.

The Eagles' Boston Scott received a big hug from center Jason Kelce after scoring his third touchdown of the game in the Eagles' division-clinching win over the Giants last December.
The Eagles' Boston Scott received a big hug from center Jason Kelce after scoring his third touchdown of the game in the Eagles' division-clinching win over the Giants last December.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Boston Scott is no stranger to the New York Giants. He played an instrumental role in the Eagles' two late-season wins over the Giants last December that helped propel them to the NFC East title.

He came off the bench in Week 14 and had 128 yards from scrimmage in the Eagles' 23-17 overtime win. Had five catches in the second half as the Eagles came back from a 17-3 halftime deficit. Had two big runs on the Eagles' game-winning touchdown drive in overtime.

Three weeks later, he had three rushing touchdowns and caught four passes for 84 yards in the Eagles' division-clinching 34-17 win over the Giants.

So, when the 5-foot-6, 203-pounder trots on the field Thursday night as injured Miles Sanders' replacement at running back, no one on the other side of the field will be asking, who the heck is that little guy?

The question from the Eagles' perspective is how effective Scott, and the team’s two other backups, Corey Clement and Jason Huntley, will be Thursday night at the Linc. The Giants may be 1-5, but they have a pretty good run defense that is fifth in overall opponent rush average (3.7) and third in opponent rush average on first down (3.3).

» READ MORE: History favors the Eagles on Thursday against the Giants. It’s the Doug Pederson way. | Mike Sielski

Despite Scott’s valuable late-season contributions last year, the Eagles made the decision this summer to turn Sanders into a workhorse running back, even though he was banged up late last season and missed most of training camp and the Eagles' Week 1 loss to Washington with a hamstring injury.

“There’s a reason why he’s No. 1,” running backs coach Duce Staley said earlier this month. "We depend on him. He’s our guy. He has to go out there and he has to play, and sometimes it’s going to be like that [with him getting almost all of the snaps and touches].

“Going out there and playing 80-90% of whatever, that’s what we expect out of him.”

They won’t be expecting that out of him for at least the next couple of weeks while Sanders rehabs yet another injury, this time a knee.

“You have to remember, this is their job. So keeping them sharp, keeping them focused on the details and the little things is their job and what they have to do. So when they do get an opportunity to make a play, they have to.”

Duce Staley, on the Eagles' backup running backs stepping into bigger roles

Sanders played 224 of 283 snaps (79.1%) in Games 2-5. He was effective, averaging 6.1 yards per carry, which was the highest per-carry average of any running back in the league with more than 50 carries.

Meanwhile, Scott played just 42 snaps in those four games, getting a total of 13 touches. Clement played just 16 snaps and got five touches.

Now, with Sanders on the shelf until probably at least after the Week 9 bye week, Scott, Clement and Huntley are next men up.

“You have to remember, this is their job,” Staley said. “So keeping them sharp, keeping them focused on the details and the little things is their job and what they have to do. So when they do get an opportunity to make a play, they have to.”

Scott and Clement played a combined 23 snaps against the 49ers and Steelers. Scott played 35 snaps in the second half after Sanders got hurt, but had just four touches. He had four yards on two carries and two catches for five yards.

“I’m definitely ready,” Scott said on Tuesday. "It’s a blessing to get the opportunity. I trust in Doug P’s game plan, and I’m just ready to go out there.

“I know everyone’s going to be firing on all cylinders, and I’m just looking forward to contributing in whatever way I can. But I’m definitely ready.”

One of Scott’s strengths last year was the screen game. But because of the nonstop injuries to their offensive line, the Eagles' screen game has been largely unproductive this season. Wentz is averaging just 2.4 yards per attempt on throws behind the line of scrimmage. Last year, he averaged 6.1.

» READ MORE: Fans are back at the Linc for Eagles home games. Here’s what you need to know.

“I think it’s more of what the defense is giving us,” Scott said. “Doug P’s doing a great job of attacking what they give us.”

Scott proved last season that he can quickly shed rust and be productive. Before his impressive Week 14 performance against the Giants last December, he had played a total of 17 offensive snaps in the previous four games.

“We know Boston has played,” Pederson said this week. "We know Corey’s played. Hundley is the only one that’s really limited from the standpoint of playing.

“But we’ve got confidence in all three of those guys to be able to get the job done.”

Scott said what he did last year in those two Giants games is ancient history.

“We don’t really like to talk about previous experiences,” he said. “I like to build on that as far as confidence or whatever it may be. But every year is a new year. Nothing is given. You have to go out there and earn it each and every week.”

Figuring the Eagles

  1. Carson Wentz attempted seven passes of 20 yards or more against Baltimore, which equaled his season high. Four of those seven deep balls targeted rookie John Hightower, including a 50-yard completion to him. Wentz has completed 10 of 29 passes of 20 yards or more. His 34.5 deep-ball completion percentage is slightly lower than last year (37.7). He has three touchdowns and two interceptions on 20-plus yard throws. He had five TDs and four interceptions last year in 16 games.

  1. Hightower has been targeted by Wentz on eight of his 29 deep-ball throws, all in the last two games. Travis Fulgham and DeSean Jackson each have been targeted five times on 20-plus-yard throws. Fulgham has four catches on his five deep-ball targets. Jackson has one. No other Eagles receiver has been targeted more than twice on deep balls.

  2. Wentz had been sacked a league-high 25 times this season. Nine of them have been on third down. He’s been sacked a disconcerting once every 7.6 pass plays on third down. His third-down sack ratio the previous four years: 1/11.9 in 2019, 1/10.3 in 2018, 1/18.7 in 2017 and 1/13.0 in 2016.

  3. Zach Ertz, who is expected to be sidelined until after the Week 9 bye with an ankle injury, has a career-low 53.3 catch rate. In the last two games, he was targeted 16 times, but had just five catches.

  4. Wentz has a 106.5 passer rating in his four Thursday night starts. He’s thrown 10 TD passes and just one interception in those four games.

  5. No quarterback in the league has been under more duress this season than the Giants' Daniel Jones. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s been under pressure on 44.2% of his dropbacks.

  6. The Eagles have given up a league-high 10 rushing touchdowns, including eight in the red zone. Six of those eight have been three yards or less. The Eagles allowed 10 rushing TDs in the red zone the entire season last year.

The (short-week) healing process

Timing is everything and Carson Wentz’s isn’t the best right now. With the Eagles playing the Giants on three days rest, the fifth-year quarterback picked a bad time to absorb the worst beating of the season, and maybe his career.

Wentz was knocked down or hit a season-high 18 times in the Eagles' 2-point loss to Baltimore. That doesn’t include his five rushing attempts.

» READ MORE: At the NFL trade deadline, the Eagles must protect Carson Wentz and target the offensive line | David Murphy

Those 15 pounds he decided to add to his frame in the offseason likely are coming in handy about right now. He’s been sacked a league-high 25 times in the first six games and has been sacked/hit a total of 65 times already. He’s also run the ball 28 times.

“You play a lot of snaps in a game and you have to turn around [and play again] on Thursday night,” Wentz said Tuesday. “It can be a challenge. But that’s a big point of emphasis. Finding a way to maximize your recovery to get back out there on Thursday.”

When Wentz woke up Monday morning, every part of his body likely was sore. His ribs, his throwing shoulder, his back, his legs, his neck.

I asked him if the recovery process during a short week, particularly after a physical game like Sunday’s, is any different than if the Eagles and Giants weren’t playing until Sunday.

“Obviously it all gets expedited,” he said. "But recovery really starts the second the game ends. Guys are doing stuff in the locker room before they even go home, or at home, with different stretches, mobility, different recovery things. And I was no different.

“I’ll be just fine come Thursday night. I’ll take care of myself and we’ll be fine.”

Humbly happy to be back

While many Eagles players are grimacing at the prospect of Thursday night’s short-week game against the Giants, safety Will Parks hardly can wait to get back out there and hit somebody.

The Germantown High School product injured his hamstring early in training camp and ended missing not only the rest of the summer, but the first five games of the season as well. He finally was cleared to play Sunday against the Ravens and was on the field for 53 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps.

It was just the second time in his career that he missed time because of an injury. He broke his left thumb last October when he was with the Broncos, but only ended up being sidelined two games.

He said being out with the hamstring injury was one of the most trying times of his life.

“Man, like, to be honest, I’m just going to keep it real,” he said earlier this week. "That was one of the worst/best things that could’ve happened to me. It kind of humbled me in the sense that [you realize] anything can happen to anybody.

"But at the same time, I was just so eager to get back out on the field. Some nights I cried. Some nights I would just pitch arguments with myself. I would just try to find ways to make myself angry, but try to turn it over into positives once I got back on the field. And it’s been kind of working.

"I’ll tell you one thing, man. I never sat out that long. It was hurtful, but it kind of humbled me. I was just so excited to be out there Sunday, running around, playing football.

“Now, we get to run around 4 days later. Thursday Night Football. So that’s pretty exciting. I’m pretty excited about that.”

Five sacks and counting for BG

The Eagles sacked Lamar Jackson three times on Sunday. Brandon Graham had two of them, bringing his season sack total to five.

This is the fastest the 32-year-old defensive end has gotten to five sacks. He’s in his 11th year and still is looking for his first double-digit-sack season. If he can stay healthy, this could be it.

Despite his age, Graham is playing some of the best football of his career. Normally an ironman, he only played 60% of the defensive snaps against Baltimore, which was his lowest percentage since Week 1 when he played 54% of the snaps against Washington.

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said earlier this week that the reason he reduced Graham’s snap percentage Sunday was because of the cardiovascular challenge of chasing Lamar Jackson all over the field.

“BG is one of our best players,” Schwartz said. “In that game, particularly when you’re chasing a scrambling quarterback, a great player like Lamar Jackson, we made a concerted effort to try to keep guys as fresh as we could.”

While Graham has a team-high five sacks, Schwartz said he’s been even more impressed by the way the veteran has defended the run. While Jackson ended up rushing for 108 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown run right up the middle, the Eagles held the Ravens' three running backs to 74 yards on 28 carries.

“I think our defensive ends in general played really well against the run in that game,” Schwartz said. “We got loose on the quarterback a couple of times, but that’s generally not a defensive-end responsibility in our book.”