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Spadaro: Miles Sanders leads a productive quartet at running back

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

It was a storyline throughout the summer and, even, right up until the NFL trade deadline in November: Would the Eagles be in the market for a big-bodied running back to complement the ball-carrying room, to win those short-yardage and goal-line collisions that could ultimately provide the difference in a down-to-the-inches football game?

Turned out, the Eagles stayed with what they had when the regular season began: Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, and the newest running back on the active roster, Trey Sermon, acquired off of waivers from San Francisco as teams reduced their rosters to 53 players.

"First of all, everybody has a role with what they do," Head Coach Nick Sirianni told me on Wednesday during our weekly one-on-one interview. "Guys have similar skill sets and or they can have different skill sets, but everyone has their role, everybody has really dove into their role and excelled at their role. That's when you're getting great play from a position group where you have guys who are doing different things and having different roles and really excelling at them.

"Then there's the selflessness of every one of the guys, how happy they are for each other when they're making plays, when they're scoring."

How did that work for the Eagles? Let's take a look at the production from the running backs within an offense that ranked among the best in the NFL throughout the regular season and then churned out 69 points in two decisive playoff victories ...

1. Miles Sanders

A remarkable Pro Bowl season for the fourth-year running back continues in Super Bowl LVII. Sanders ran for 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards per carry in the 17-game regular season. One year after Sanders was shut out in the touchdown department, he was a beast inside the 20-yard line and almost unstoppable inside the 10-yard line. Sanders ran with patience, vision, and north-south force. He has always been a big-play back with great elusiveness, but Sanders took it to another level in 2022.

He has continued his great play in the playoffs – Sanders rushed for 90 yards on 17 carries against the New York Giants as the Eagles' running backs gained 234 yards and scored three touchdowns in the 38-7 win – and then followed up that performance with 11 carries, 42 yards, and two huge first-half touchdowns against San Francisco's No. 1-ranked defense on Sunday.

"I'm not sure what else I can say, except that I'm staying humble and I know we have one more game to go," Sanders said. "Credit to the offensive line and the blocking. I'm feeling good out there, in control, aware of what I'm doing and where I'm going. Just following the big guys (offensive line). Everything is clicking for us, but we have more in front of us."

2. Kenneth Gainwell

The second-year back has emerged in a big way during the postseason. That's a great thing, because Gainwell's touches went down during the season as Sanders took control, stayed healthy, and showed outstanding consistency. Gainwell gained 240 rushing yards and scored four ground touchdowns on 53 regular-season carries, and added 23 receptions and 169 yards in the passing game. Decent numbers, but not as many opportunities as in his rookie season when Gainwell contributed 291 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 68 carries and had another 33 receptions for 253 yards and a score in the passing game.

Then came the postseason. And, oh boy, has Gainwell been a weapon. In the rampage over the Giants, Gainwell ran and slashed and dashed and powered his way to a career-high 112 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown. On Sunday against the 49ers, Gainwell picked up a team-high 48 yards on 14 rushing attempts. He has also added three receptions for 35 big yards in the passing game.

Gainwell has been a major factor, and the best might be yet to come.

"Kenny has done a good job for two years now. He just had a knack for the end zone last year, he's having some more touches here in the playoff run and he takes advantage of the opportunities that he gets," Sirianni said. "Miles is obviously our guy, our go-to guy, and I believe our other two guys (Boston Scott and Trey Sermon) have excelled in their role when they've come in and they've known what to do.

"Kenny runs physical. He's got great vision. He does a great job on third down. He and Boston do a great job of lowering their pads and finishing runs off. I'm really pleased with that room."

3. Boston Scott

No matter who the Eagles are playing – and, yes, we make a lot of the Boston Scott vs. Giants angle – Scott gets the job done. He's shown that repeatedly in his time here, no matter the role. Scott has been outstanding returning kickoffs and he has been a huge plus in the running game in the postseason after a solid regular season.

Scott ran for 217 yards and three touchdowns on 54 carries in the regular season and he's turned it up in the playoffs, contributing 12 carries, 36 yards, and a pair of scores – one against New York and one against San Francisco.

"I'm going to run angry and do what I can do every time I touch the ball," Scott said after he had a 29-yard kickoff return and six carries for 21 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers. "We have a lot of talent here. Just doing my part."

4. Trey Sermon

Sermon has been inactive for both playoff games and he had just two carries for 17 yards in the regular season after the Eagles picked him up off of waivers from San Francisco just prior to the start of the regular season.

Philadelphia is high on Sermon's future in this offense.

"Trey has had some good games this year," Sirianni said, "and we're excited about what the future holds for Trey."

The present, though, is what it's all about, and the Eagles are expected to bring a three-headed monster into Super Bowl LVII – Sanders, Gainwell, and Scott, in whatever order – hoping to have an explosive, productive, and versatile ground game working against Kansas City's defense.

The latest addition to the gallery is a look at the Super Bowl Media Day with FOX in preparation for the network's broadcast of the big game.

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