PHILADELPHIA — The Eagles’ offense had perfect balance on Sunday.
Quarterback Carson Wentz threw 29 passes and running backs Jordan Howard, rookie Miles Sanders and company had the exact same number of rushing attempts in a 31-6 victory over the New York Jets at Lincoln Financial Field.
“Our pass game is going pretty well,” Howard said Sunday. “But if we have the run game to complement that, it makes us even harder to stop.”
Howard had a team-high 62 yards on 18 carries (4.8 yards per carry) against the Jets and scored the first touchdown on a 1-yard run on their opening possession. Sanders, a second-round draft pick from Penn State, added 15 yards on nine carries (1.7 yards per carry), but also had four receptions for 49 yards, including a 36-yarder.
That could be an omen. Coach Doug Pederson indicated during Monday’s livestreamed news conference that Howard could become the primary ball carrier of the Eagles’ backfield, while Sanders could become more of a factor as a receiver.
“First of all, it’s a good mix with those two guys,” Pederson said. “You’re seeing Miles in the passing game be a little more explosive with some of the down-the-field throws. And with Jordan, he’s the kind of the guy that you settle down in the run game and give him those touches.
“He’s a between-the-tackles guy, big and powerful. And he has good vision.”
Using Sanders as a receiver is a bigger possibility given the injury situation. Running back Darren Sproles is listed as “week to week” after suffering a quadriceps strain against the Jets. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, the team’s top downfield threat, is still recovering from an abdominal strain that’s caused him to miss the last three games.
Pederson indicated Jackson will continue to rehab this week, meaning his status for next Sunday’s game at Minnesota is in doubt.
“You miss his explosiveness, obviously, the threat to stretch a defense and his ability to get open,” Peterson said. “We have to help him get healthy and get back on the field.”
Howard, who was acquired in an offseason trade with Chicago, is considered the kind of running back that gets better as the game goes on as he gets into a rhythm, similar to how LeGarrette Blount performed for the Eagles in 2017.
The 6-foot, 224-pounder got off to a slow start this season, receiving just 14 total carries in the first two games.
He had 15 carries for 87 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-27 win at Green Bay and had a season-high 18 attempts Sunday.
“I didn’t feel like I did a great job in the first half outside of the touchdown, but I feel like I was able to pick it up in the second half a little bit,” Howard said.
Being able to rely on the running game also eases the pressure and the risk of injury for Wentz.
Although there will be times he’ll have to throw the ball 40 times in a game, he’s only attempted a combined 56 passes in the last two games.
He still came through with some terrific plays against the Jets, including one in which he ducked under Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and fired a 20-yard strike to tight end Zach Ertz.
There was another one in which he chased down an errant snap, grabbed the ball and threw an incompletion to trailing wide receiver Mack Hollins to save about 20 yards of field position.
His competitive nature also lends itself to some unnecessary gambles, however. There were times when he might have been better off just throwing the ball away or taking a sack instead of trying to extend plays.
“You always want to make a play for your team,” Wentz said Sunday. “That fighter mentality, that I’m not going to go down, and I’m going to make a play, is something that I am always trying to juggle and balance.”