Miles Sanders wants more: How his emergence makes the Eagles so much better

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles coach Nick Sirianni brought his young son, Miles, to his postgame news conference Sunday and sat him on his lap while he talked about the 29-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars that lifted Philadelphia to a 4-0 record.

Miles shot his dad a quizzical look as he heard his first name being suddenly shouted when Sirianni got animated talking about another Miles -- Miles Sanders, who set career highs in carries (27) and rushing yards (134) while tying a career best with two touchdowns on the ground to guide the offense through a wind- and rain-swept afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.

"Miles Sanders is our No. 1 back! There is no question about it!" Sirianni said.

The inside joke goes back to training camp, when Sanders worked one day with the second-team unit, sparking some speculation about how tight his grip was on the starting job. Sanders had already deemed this season to be "a little personal" and made it known after the hub-bub over practice reps that he was out for respect. Some of his long runs during training camp would finish with Sanders shouting in the direction of the gathered media. That edge has not dissipated through four regular-season games.

"He played angry in my opinion," quarterback Jalen Hurts said. "He played with a purpose [Sunday] afternoon."

Sanders is in the final year of his rookie contract. He is motivated to silence doubters. He plays behind one of the best offensive lines in football (second best in run block win rate behind the Kansas City Chiefs) and alongside a quarterback in Hurts who draws attention in the backfield as a running threat. At age 25, he is smack in the middle of his prime. He is healthy. This has proved to be quite an effective combination. Sanders is third in rushing yards (356) through four games behind only Saquon Barkley (463) and Nick Chubb (459), and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

His standout play is really good news for the Eagles, who, as the only undefeated team remaining in football, have received plenty of it to this point in the season. It's good because, while Kenny Gainwell, Boston Scott and Trey Sermon are all positive contributors, having a true lead back adds to the variety of ways in which they can win games. We've seen them lean on the play of Hurts, who ranks fifth in passing yards (1,120), first in yards per pass (9.1) and third in rushing touchdowns (4). We've seen them rely on their defense, which is first in sacks (16) and tied for first in takeaways (10).

Now, with the remnants of Hurricane Ian making conditions wet and miserable in South Philly, we've seen them supported by Sanders and the ground game, which ripped off 210 yards against a Jacksonville team that led the league in rush defense coming in (55 yards per game).

"There were a lot of ugly runs in there that [Sanders] made positive yards out of," said center Jason Kelce. "That's what you want out of a running back. When we block it up well, you're going to get good yards. But the running backs that can make something when there ain't much there, that's when you know you've got a good one, and Miles was doing a lot of that [Sunday]."

Sanders, meanwhile, gave most of the credit to an offensive line that continued to dominate even when tackle Jordan Mailata and guard Isaac Seumalo exited with injuries.

The Eagles now know they can win shootouts and slop-fests alike. And although injuries have factored into Sanders' career, they now have evidence that he can handle a heavy workload (he hadn't carried it that many times since a game against Rutgers in 2018, when he was playing for Penn State) and thrive in the assignment, all while protecting the football in "train wreck" like elements, as Kelce described them. That bodes well for an Eagles team that could very well be playing meaningful games in January.

"Definitely getting in the groove," Sanders said of the increased carries. "Whenever they call my number, I’m going to be ready, regardless."