PHILADELPHIA - Miles Sanders is an incredibly talented running back but his production, while more than solid over his first two-plus seasons, has never quite matched his potential.
Everything from ball-security issues to attention to detail when it comes to his receiving skills and pass protection, as well as injuries, have kept the Penn State product from reaching his ceiling.
For now, Sanders remains the lead dog in the Eagles’ running back committee approach, a group that has teamed with an elite offensive line and a unique quarterback to produce the second-best running game in the NFL to date and the top one overall over the last month which has produced three 200-yard rushing games.
Sanders, though, was absent for three of the last four games with an ankle injury. He returned in an impressive 40-29 win over New Orleans in which he ran for a team- and season-high 94 yards on 16 carries.
That’s the good.
The bad was a fumble with the Eagles’ backed up that led to a Saints touchdown and another in a similar position that was erased by a quick whistle declaring forward progress by the officials.
Perhaps the shaky handle could have been forgiven due to Sanders’ time on the shelf especially in a somewhat easy win but another mistake wasn’t forgotten by head coach Nick Sirianni.
On an impressive run late in the game, Sanders went out of bounds stopping the clock instead of going down in the field of play and keeping things moving or forcing Sean Payton to burn a time out.
It was especially egregious in the coach’s mind because Sanders did something similar on two occasions in an Oct. 10 win at Carolina.
“We pulled him out of the game and just reminded him, again, to stay in bounds,” Sirianni admitted. “He had two in Carolina. Repeat offenders of things, we usually get mad about. He knows. Shoot, if he had that next carry and didn't have to come out of the game to be reminded to stay inbounds, he would have had a hundred yards."
The century mark is important for any RB and Sanders hasn’t had a 100-yard game since Dec. 15 of last year against at Washington.
"Just gotta learn from my mistakes concerning stuff I gotta do and just be disciplined and follow [coaching points],” Sanders said before a walkthrough practice on Wednesday. “Despite [missing] the 100 yards, I’m just happy we won the game."
The little things are what’s keeping the other RBs: Jordan Howard, Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell more involved in the committee, something Sanders understands will continue even with Howard expected to be sidelined for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants.
“I think it'll still be running back by committee,” Sanders said of Sunday’s game. “It's the same situation when I was out, spread the ball out between Boston, Kenny, and Jordan. Now with Jordan out, it's Kenny back in the mix.”
Sirianni, though, has said he’s going to ride the hot hand.
“Definitely willing to go hot hand,” the coach said. “Definitely willing to do that. But, yeah, right now it's just been by committee, and we think that's working well. But if somebody gets hot, no doubt we'll stick with it.”
Sanders had no problem with that approach even if he’s not the one heating up.
"Whoever is hot, keep the ball in their hands,” he said. “I believe Jordan had a hot hand in last week's game and kept him for about five, six plays in a row and all gashed the defense pretty good so like I said everybody's gonna be ready for whatever and whoever's name is called up is gonna be ready."
With the Giants next on the schedule the interest around Scott tends to heat up because the fourth-year back’s best games have come against “Big Blue” with six of his 10 career TDs coming against New York.
“When you play against the same teams and they can't stop you, you have to feel confident,” Sanders said when discussing Scott’s work against the NYG. “You have no reason but to feel confident. Boston Scott, I hope the Giants are ready for Boston Scott."
As for Sanders’ own game, the Pittsburgh-area native believes he’s improved dramatically since his rookie season and seems to be able to verbalize the issues that still need fixing.
“I think mentally and football IQ-wise I think I'm way, much on a different level than I was in my rookie year,” he said. “Just knowing what to do and how to do it. Just looking at defense and anticipating stuff but still reading it out but expecting some off this look. Just being smarter and playing smarter football."
-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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.