Divisional Round 2023 Comparisons: Running Backs

Joe Maiorana, USA TODAY Sports

Leading up to the Eagles match-up with the New York Giants on Saturday, Sports Talk Philly and Eagledelphia will compare the personnel of the two teams each day until gameday is here.

In this edition of our week-long comparison, we will look at the running backs that the Eagles and Giants will field on Saturday.


Philadelphia RBs | Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Trey Sermon

Former Penn State running back Miles Sanders, in his fourth season in the league, has been the Eagles “workhorse” back this season. Although there are times where the run game is seemingly non-existent because the team will go entire halves without calling a play to their running backs, Sanders still carried the ball 259 times this season and became the Birds’ first 1000-yard rusher since 2014 by throwing up 1269 yards this season – good for a 4.9 yards per carry average. He added 11 touchdowns despite being rotated more often than a back used like a workhorse normally is and playing with a quarterback who had 13 rushing touchdowns of his own.

Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott have both spelled Sanders throughout games this season with each making over 50 rushing attempts on the year. Gainwell (53 carries, 240 yards, four touchdowns) is the player that adds the most out of the backfield, with 23 receptions for 169 yards. Boston Scott has been the least efficient of the Eagles running backs on the ground this year, but his 54 carries for 217 yards is still over four yards per carry. Of course, it’s relevant to this match-up that Scott is a known Giant killer; this season he put up 87 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries against the team. Over the eight games he’s played against New York, he has posted 636 yards and 10 touchdowns (averaging 6.2 yards per touch).

The final back, Trey Sermon, was claimed off waivers at the start of the season and has been a regular on the game day inactive list unless the Eagles have an injury at the position. He has just two rushes for 19 yards this season.


Giants RBs | Saquon Barkley, Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, Jashaun Corbin

The man who played ahead of Sanders at Penn State, Saquon Barkley is in the midst of a career resurgence following several seasons that were marred by injury. The 2022 season saw him post career highs in both rushing attempts (295) and rushing yards (1312). He also posted the most receptions (57) he’s had since his rookie season and added 338 yards to his total yardage through the air.

Breida was someone who split time in San Francisco, but has been more of a secondary or change-of-pace back since he departed there in 2020. Breida serves as the Giants number two back and, just like Kenny Gainwell or Boston Scott, took 54 carries for the Giants in relief of Saquon. He averaged over four yards per carry doing this, posting 220 yards and a touchdown during his carries.

Gary Brightwell has 31 carries on the year, but made 11 of those against the Eagles in week 18 when the Giants avoided playing players they couldn’t afford to lose. Outside that game, he had just 20 carries for 81 yards. While he appeared as a kick returner in the Wild Card game (and fumbled in the process), he did not see offensive touches. He figures to see little to no touches again against the Eagles unless injury strikes in the Giants backfield.

Jashaun Corbin is a rookie free agent that has been with the team since the summer, but he has seen no playing time.


Edge

The two lead backs from Penn State are nearly neck and neck this season, but it has been Sanders who has been the most efficient with his touches, netting an extra touchdown in nearly 50 fewer rushes and averaging closer to 5 yards per attempt as opposed to Saquon’s 4.5. Saquon does get the edge in receiving, but that has been in quantity more this year than ever before with his explosiveness off of those catches being arguably the lowest it’s ever been.

From a depth perspective, the Eagles are more confident and have the more experienced backs and they will almost certainly plan to utilize this on Saturday, giving them a stronger lineup when it comes to keeping their runners fresh and healthy. Plus, it’s hard to ignore that the Eagles feature a backup running back who has played so well against the Giants that, if he played a 17-game season against them, he’d be paced for a 1351-yard season (rushing and receiving) of his own – with 21 touchdowns.


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