The Steelers are always going to enter a game hoping to limit the opposition’s running game, and that’s especially the case when a team with a talented running back enters Heinz Field.
Philadelphia Eagles second-year back Miles Sanders certainly qualifies. The Woodland Hills and Penn State product had over 1,300 yards from scrimmage as a rookie in 2019 and is on pace to exceed that total this year despite missing Philadelphia’s opener with an injury, as he has over 300 yards from scrimmage in three games.
Stopping Sanders will be an important part of the game plan for any team facing the Eagles this season, but right now, he’s become an even more critical part of their offense thanks to some injuries elsewhere. The Eagles played without wide receivers J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery on Sunday and it’s not clear if any of the trio will be able to suit up this Sunday in Pittsburgh.
The combination of factors means that shutting down Sanders is at the top of the priority list for Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
“He’s developed into a quality all-situation running back, one that runs well inside, one that runs well on the perimeter,” Tomlin said on Tuesday. “He’s included in their passing game as well. We have to work to minimize his impact on the game. You know that is always our agenda to neutralize our opponents’ featured runner, but I think it’s doubly important in this circumstance because of the number of people that they’re missing on the perimeter.”
The Steelers have been fairly successful in shutting down opposing backs so far this season. They held the New York Giants and Houston Texans to 29 rushing yards apiece in Weeks 1 and 3, while the Denver Broncos were able to find some more room, rushing for 104 yards — 70 of them from starting running back Melvin Gordon — in Week 2.
Gordon, like Sanders, is another back that can be dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield. He owns three career seasons with over 400 receiving yards. But he was held to two catches for 14 yards in Pittsburgh.