Nick Sirianni Attempts to Explain the Rushing Issues on Both Sides of Ball

The Eagles' run defense was shredded again in the most recent loss, but the head coach remains confident in his defensive coordinator, and what's up with Miles Sanders?
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Andy Reid spends one day in town and the next thing you know Nick Sirianni starts answering questions like the Kansas City head coach.

You know the line: “We have to do a better job.”

That was part of what Sirianni said on Monday afternoon when it came to his defense, one that has given up 77 points in the last two losses and nearly 850 yards of total offense combined to the Cowboys and Chiefs.

Of course, the Eagles head coach went into more detail about it, especially when addressing a run defense that came into the game ranked 26th out of 32 teams and will certainly sink deeper after surrendering 200 to Kansas City on Sunday.

“Any time a team runs for 200 yards on you, you know you have to look at the coaching first,” said Sirianni. “Obviously, we were very critical and hard on ourselves (Monday) morning. There were some tough conversations in the defensive room this morning, but all in attempts to get better and improve from this.

“We feel like we’re taking the right steps to do so, but there’s no secret, we need to do so and we need to stop the run on first and second down.”

It’s not just stopping the run the Eagles are struggling to do. It’s also running the ball they don’t seem to want to stick with as a game unfolds.

Miles Sanders’ touches increased to seven against the Chiefs, up from two in Dallas a week earlier. Maybe if he was more productive with those touches, rather than averaging just 1.9 yards per carry with them, he might’ve gotten more.

Sirianni said the team isn’t giving up on their top running back, even as rookie Kenny Gainwell gets more and more acclimated in his first NFL season and coming off a final year at Memphis in which he opted out due to COVID-19.

The numbers for both running backs are similar.

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Gainwell has 13 catches this season for 114 yards as well as 84 yards rushing with a 4.4 yards per carry average. His two rushing touchdowns are tied for the team lead with tight end Dallas Goedert and receiver Greg Ward.

Sanders has 169 yards rushing with a 4.6 ypc average, with 11 catches for 105 yards. He is still looking for his first touchdown after putting up a total of 12 in his first two seasons.

“You see some of the things that we’ve done for Kenny Gainwell in the pass game,” said Sirianni. “We see him kind of in that mode of how we’re getting him the football. Sometimes with us in our run game, we’re reading this. It’s a read where Jalen can run it or it’s a read where he can pull it.

"So, there’s more calls to Miles than are showing up on the stat sheet. I think you guys understand that.”

The Eagles’ run game is predicated on the run-pass option or RPO. The defense dictates to QB Jalen Hurts when to hand the ball off, when to keep it, and when to throw it.

“We try to keep a guy unblocked at times and we read him,” said Sirianni. “Sometimes he gets touches based off the defense is playing and sometimes he doesn’t.

"We have the ultimate confidence in Miles. You saw what he did when he got a couple of touches out in space the other day with two-plus 10-yard gains he had on catches. It’s nothing he’s doing, it’s the reads are taking the quarterback other places with the ball. We look to get him going in our offense more.”

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Sirianni said the same thing about defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who continues to be a non-factor on the stat sheet, showing up only once on it through four games.

The coach said they have to find a way to free him up more and put him in a position to make plays.

That could be said about just about every player on defense, outside of tackle Javon Hargrave, who has been far and away the team’s best defensive player. It would be a challenge to name another player playing well on that side of the ball.

Sirianni said the running defense is struggling because the scheme sometimes call for more middle-of-the-field open coverages and more needs to be done with the front when in those types of coverages.

The coach said he still has all the confidence that defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who will meet with the media on Tuesday, can get the defense fixed over the course of the next 13 games.

“Let’s not forget the first two weeks we stoned an Atlanta offense then we stoned a San Francisco offense,” Sirianni said. “At that point, there was a lot of chatter how good Jonathan was doing. I still think he’s doing good.

“I know what he’s capable of, I know what the defense is capable of and I know what the defensive staff is capable of, so I’m very confident we’ll get these things fixed and we’ll improve from this and go from there.”

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.