Nick Sirianni Hints at How He’ll Use the Eagles’ Fleet of Running Backs

Nick Sirianni Hints at How He’ll Use the Eagles’ Fleet of Running Backs

Nick Sirianni Hints at How He’ll Use the Eagles’ Running Back Fleet Originally Appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

One of the most intriguing questions facing the Eagles in 2023 is how Nick Sirianni and new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson will deploy the Eagles’ new stable of running backs.

One thing is for sure: it will look very different.

For the past four years, Miles Sanders has been the Eagles’ standout, and while he’s missed significant time due to injuries, he’s been No. 1 since mid-2019 when Jordan Howard’s season ended with a shoulder injury.

From that point through the end of last year’s regular season, Sanders had 633 carries and Boston Scott had second on the team with 259 – the most while Sanders was out.

Only three times in Sanders’ entire four-year stay with the Eagles was there a regular season game in which he had at least 10 carries and another running back had more. All three were in 2019, two of them in the first month of Sanders’ career.

So for about a year and a half under Doug Pederson and the last two years under Nick Sirianni, Sanders has been the undisputed The Guy.

Then everything changed.

Kenny Gainwell replaced Sanders as the postseason leader, the Eagles made no attempt to re-sign Sanders when he hit free agency, Sanders signed a four-year, $25 million deal with the Panthers, and the Eagles quickly added veterans Rashaad Perry and D’Andre Swift to the running backs roster.

What does all this mean?

Nobody knows.

Even the Syrians.

“I’m fine with a committee, I’m fine with a guy taking the races too,” he said in a recent interview. “I really am. Whatever is working, whatever is going (fine).

“Sometimes we say let’s go this way and then a guy gets hot and we’ll roll with him. Like Kenny in the playoffs a little bit last year. He got more touches than before because he was running so well.

“I’m happy with what’s working and playing with the best. I love the depth we have to be able to rotate guys and keep them fresh. I like it when you have a guy that can do it all, I like it when you have a guy that you can target. There are so many different ways to do this.”

Swift is the most experienced of the group and the best receiver.

Penny has that monstrous 5.7 career running average, tied for the most in NFL history by a running back.

Gainwell is young and versatile and is coming off a promising postseason.

And then there’s Boston Scott, who plays sparingly but is unstoppable in short yardage and has 17 touchdowns in limited service over the last four years.

All four quarterbacks have had fantastic moments in their careers. None has ever been an advantage in a full season.

Swift has rushed for more than 500 yards every year of his career, but never more than 617. Penny has rushed for 749 yards and 6.3 yards per carry, NFL bests as of 2021, but has played in just eight other games since 2020. Gainwell has averaged just 3½ carries per game in the regular season. Scott always seems to produce when called upon, but he’s never rushed for 400 yards.

There’s a lot of talent here. But also so many questions. Can Swift and Penny get healthy? Can Gainwell handle a bigger role? Where does Scott fit in?

What makes it even more intriguing is the fact that only Gainwell was hired after 2023.

The Eagles used a running back committee to brilliant results in the 2017 postseason with Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and LeGarrette Blount combined for 556 yards from scrimmage, including 255 in the Super Bowl. The last time the Eagles used a rotation in an entire regular season was in 2016 with Ryan Mathews, Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles, although that was really a product of injuries.

Why was the Blount/Ajayi/Clement rotation so effective? Because they were all so different and the defenses never knew what was coming. Blount was a powerful runner, Ajayi fast and elusive, Clement a great receiver and tough runner.

That’s why the old Three-Headed Monster from 2003 worked so well. Brian Westbrook, Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter all had different strengths and complemented each other very well.

Sirianni’s plan?

Each game can be different. all to drive it can be different.

He compensates as he progresses depending on the opponent, the score, the downhill and distance and who has the hot hand.

“I think that’s how it is with receivers and tight ends,” Sirianni said. “You have certain views of lanes you want to go or know how to attack a defense (with), and you don’t need one guy to do each one of them – you’d love every guy to be able to do each one of them – but you just need them to, ‘Hey, how are we going to do this, this, this, this and this?’ Well, he can do this, he can do that, he can do that, this guy can do that too.

“It’s the same with running backs. Then, however, it happens. And if you don’t have a section where they can do that, you scratch that part of your manual and maybe add something different.

“But be that as it may, I don’t care how it goes as long as those boxes can be checked.”

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