Washington knew to expect a healthy dose of Sanders and still couldn't do anything about it.
Regardless of how the rest of the season plays out for the Philadelphia Eagles, general manager Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson should take comfort in the fact that they have top building blocks in place already on offense.
They have their franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz, their top running back in Miles Sanders, their left tackle of the future in Andre Dillard and a solid offensive line all the way around, not to mention record-setting tight end Zach Ertz and a sidekick, Dallas Goedert, who may be just as gifted.
If there had been any doubts about Sanders’ ability to follow the excellent tradition of Eagles backs established by Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy, there shouldn’t be after Sunday’s 37-27 win at Washington. Sanders piled up 172 yards from scrimmage to establish single-season franchise rookie records for yards rushing (687) and yards from scrimmage (1,120) — with two games to spare.
More amazing was that he did so with his team having such a limited scope. It’s not like Washington was forced to pick its poison. The Eagles were so depleted coming in that the 30 passes Wentz completed were spread to only five targets. Sanders and Boston Scott were the only backs who received carries.
In other words, Washington knew to expect a healthy dose of Sanders and still couldn’t do anything about it. And it has a good defense. Or at least Washington did before Donovan McNabb and Westbrook, err, Michael Vick and McCoy, err, Wentz and Sanders, exposed them.
Wentz and Sanders worked so well in just their 14th game together that there’s no telling what they’re capable of over the course of their careers.
Sanders already has 1,120 yards from scrimmage. Westbrook didn’t reach that many yards in a season until his third year. McCoy didn’t until his second. Sanders’ average of 10.3 yards per reception is higher than Westbrook ever had for a season. McCoy exceeded that only once.
Although Sanders has a long way to go to match their accomplishments, he’s on pace after 14 games to trump them both.
He wants to carry the ball. And the team.
“I’m going to go out there and do my job regardless,” Sanders said, “but when you have guys banged up like that [Sunday] and the type of season I’m having, I was going to go out there and say, ‘Put the game on my shoulders and let’s go ball out.’” Sanders already has the mindset of a veteran. And now he’s playing like one too. His burst, vision, running ability after the catch and understanding of the offense are all coming together quickly.
Along with his development as a player has been his rapport with Wentz, which is remarkable.
Their improvised 15-yard TD connection underscored that. Wentz scrambled out of trouble, rolled to his right and found Sanders in the back corner of the end zone, directly behind two Washington defenders. The throw was a laser.
“I saw it live and I had a great view, right down the sideline from where I was standing,” coach Doug Pederson said Monday, “and it was one of the most impressive throws I’ve seen, honestly, in my career, either as a player or a coach. I mean, it was just an impressive throw. Impressive, probably more so the catch, obviously, where Miles was.
“There were, I believe, three Redskins and an Eagle all lined up in a straight line, basically, between Carson and Miles. Just a tremendous play by both of those guys, by Carson to extend the play. Just an unbelievable, unbelievable play in that game and one that we needed.”
Sanders said he had “a regular flat route” and tried to get to the back of the end zone when Wentz started scrambling.
“I tried to stay in the corner because the linebacker that was on me thought I was going to go across the end zone,” Sanders said. “I’m happy Carson saw me and I just tried to make a good catch.”
This accelerated development likely wouldn’t have happened without the injury to Jordan Howard, their leading rusher after nine weeks who has missed the last five games with a stinger that may end his season.
In the process, a monster has been created.
That may mean Howard, who has an expiring contract, will have to continue his career elsewhere next season. Either way, his days of being the lead back in Philadelphia are over.
That’s because Sanders has transformed himself into an indispensable building block, making it impossible for the Eagles to turn back.