Jalen Hurts Carrying Heavy Load at Expense of Miles Sanders

The Eagles QB, who has accounted for 87 percent of the Eagles' total yards, is their leading rusher, leading passer and touchdown-maker, but what about Sanders?
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PHILADELPHIA – For the run-the-ball crowd, Thursday’s night game between the Eagles and Tampa Buccaneers isn’t for you. Probably not for Eagles running back Miles Sanders, either.

The Bucs' run defense is ranked No. 1 in the league. It finished each of the past two seasons ranked No. 1 in that department, too, thanks in part to a hard-to-block Vita Vea and an athletic front seven.

The Buccaneers pass defense, however, is a completely different story. They are at the complete end of the spectrum from their run defense, ranked dead last.

If you were Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni what would your game plan look like?

The guess is it will look pretty much the same as it does every week – keep the ball in Jalen Hurts’ hands and let him figure out what to do with it.

The Eagles put a lot on the plate of their second-year quarterback. He has accounted for 87 percent of the team’s total yards.

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It doesn't seem to matter that he will make just the 10th start of his career, with last year's four coming in a less than ideal environment with everybody still tiptoeing around a sour Carson Wentz.

As spectacular as Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson was on Monday night, accounting for 499 of the Ravens' 523 yards, it's easy to forget that Hurts accounted for 434 of the 462 yards the Eagles put up against the Chiefs.

The difference was Jackson won, Hurts didn’t.

That's probably more due to a roster that is constructed to win now, as the Ravens. Still, it's a big difference to be sure, but the point is Hurts isn’t getting much help from the running game.

In fact, he is the running game.

He leads the team in rushing with 256 yards, a 6.0 yards per carry average, and three touchdowns.

He is the passing game, too.

He has thrown for 1,365 yards and seven touchdowns.

His 1,621 yards of total offense has him sitting in fifth in the NFL behind Jackson (1,860), Thursday night’s opponent, Tom Brady (1,803), Week 4 foe, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (1,643), and the Eagles’ Week 9 opponent, the L.A. Chargers’ Justin Herbert (1,636).

“I don’t know if you can take him away,” said Bucs’ coach Bruce Arians earlier in the week. “He does such a good job improvising after the ball is snapped, especially in the passing game. He drops back to pass, he’s so dangerous as a runner.

"The designed runs, you can try to take those away, but like any really mobile quarterback, they hurt you after the ball is snapped.”

Hurts could probably use some help from his running backs, but designed runs just aren’t in the game plan. It is Hurts’ call if he will hand off to whichever back is in the game or keep it.

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Meanwhile, Sanders puts on his best I’m-not-frustrated face each week.

It’s to the point where you wonder if, in one of these games, a wrestling match between Sanders and Hurts will erupt when Hurts puts the ball in Sanders’ belly only to try to pull it out because he saw something else that might work better. But Sanders resists, resulting in a tug-of-war.

“I’m adjusting to the play calling, adjusting to the way we run the offense, and just trying to do whatever I can to help the team, not really focused on how many touches I’m limited or getting,” said Sanders. “If I’m rolling and I get more touches, it is what it is, but that’s just how it is obviously.”

Sanders has 64 touches this season.

Last year, he had 83 touches after returning from missing the opener and playing in five straight games, including games with back-to-back carries of 20 and 18 in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively.

He insists he is not frustrated.

“We won the game. I don’t really care about touches or whatever,” he said. “If it’s a game I’m starting off hot and they decide to give me the ball more, that’s just what it is. Same way with everybody else. If receivers are hot, keep throwing them the ball. That’s no problem with me, as long as we win the game, I don’t care.”

With Hurts being asked to carry the load, Sanders may start caring more if more wins aren't sprinkled in over the next month or so.

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Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.