Special Teams Fails the Eagles (Again)

With the game tied at 17 in the fourth quarter and the Eagles facing a fourth down from their own 29, Mat McBriar jogged on to the field and set up to punt.

The Eagles had 13 minutes and 52 seconds to decide what the conversation would be in this city Monday morning. Would people be talking about a 4-5 team that was just one game back of the Giants in the loss column? Or a 3-6 team that had lost five in a row and would be searching for a new coach in the coming weeks?

Bobby April’s special-teams unit provided the answer.

McBriar’s punt went 49 yards to the Dallas 22, where Dwayne Harris fielded it. He made a move to his left and was gone, down the far sideline for a 78-yard touchdown. No missed tackles. That would have required someone to be close enough to get a hand on him.

Cowboys 24, Eagles 17.

“I’ve just got to get the guys prepared,” said special-teams coach Bobby April, looking deflated in the locker room after the game. “I feel bad that I let the team down. I let the head coach down. It’s my responsibility to make those plays. Didn’t do it. They beat us, they whooped us. They whooped us in a couple one-on-one deals, and obviously [Cowboys special-teams coach] Joe DeCamillis whooped me.”

Colt Anderson, the Eagles’ best special-teams player, gave credit to Dallas as well.

“They had a nice wall set up,” Anderson said. “We didn’t have anybody out there, and the returner made a couple guys miss. He set it up nicely. It was out the gate. They had a good scheme. Give credit to them.”

Since the beginning of the 2011 season, the Eagles have lost seven games decided by one possession. While Michael Vick, Marty Mornhinweg, Juan Castillo and others have taken plenty of blame, special teams probably hasn’t received its fair share. April’s group has rarely affected the game in a positive way – either in the return game or with the coverage units. This was not a one-week thing. Entering the game, Eagles special-teams were ranked 25th by Football Outsiders.

“We just can’t give up plays like that, and we’ve got to get some plays like that ourselves,” Anderson said.

Aside from coverage, there seemed to be some disagreement about whether McBriar’s punt went where it was supposed to go.

“Yeah, I hit a pretty good ball,” McBriar said. “It was sort of towards where we were trying to get it to. They’re trying to make a play just as we are. Sometimes, it works out that way.”

April didn’t seem to agree completely.

“It was probably a little too deep,” April said. “I’d have to look at the hang/distance ratio. It was a returnable ball. You’d like those things to be high and short, in general. Then the punter can take them out of it. But I’m not blaming Mat. He hit the ball. That could have given us good field position.”

Entering Sunday, opposing offenses had started drives at their own 30.48-yard-line against the Eagles. Only three teams in the NFL were worse. Part of that has to do with turnovers by the offense. And part of it has to do with coverage units that have been shaky all year.

Aside from the punt return, the Eagles had a missed extra point, and Andy Reid was forced to use a timeout when it appeared that the field-goal unit was a player short (King Dunlap).

There have been mistakes and negative plays all year, but Sunday’s return was the biggest. And now, the conversation shifts to what this team, and this coaching staff, will look like in 2013.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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  • Brian

    Also a block in the back or two in there.

    • SteveH

      Yeah it looked pretty clear watching it live that Colt Anderson got shoved to the ground from behind, I was actually pretty confident it was going to get called back but evidently the officials didn’t see what I saw.

  • Wilbert M.

    Bobby April is like the terrible professor that keeps his job because he has tenure. Its hard to understand how he has a job. Special teams stunk last year as well. I guess Andy likes Bobby better than Juan.

    • SteveH

      April was actually one of the best special teams coaches in the league in Buffalo. I don’t know why we can’t get it together here, but he’s far from some scrub that you fire at the drop of the hat. If Dick Lebeau had a bad year or two at D-coordinator I doubt anyone would suggest that he should be shipped out of town.

      • JofreyRice

        Yeah, I’ve heard that, too. Do you think he has lived up to his rep, though? Like Sheil mentions above, his unit really never affects the game in a positive way. If you bought into April as a special teams wizard, his time in Philly has been a disappointment.

      • The Guru

        My buddy is a Buffalo fan and he said April was horrible there as well. And if he were so great, wouldn’t Buffalo have kept him?

  • Dan

    I wonder if Reid gets a pass for another season if he pulls the injury card. I hope Lurie holds true to his word, two (far) below average seasons w/ this “talented” roster is inexcusable. And it starts w/ the lack of accountability from the head coach. These players have given up on Andy Reid.

    • Meh1988

      You wouldn’t think he’d get another crack. It’s hard to play the injury card when most of your starters are still screwing up when they have a chance to make plays. It’s been a shitty year for Big Red and I hope he gets in with a good organization whenever he decides to coach again. But it’s time for change in Philly.

  • ohitsdom

    Can we get some explanation on what happened with the missed extra point?

    • Brian

      What’s to explain? He missed. It happens from time to time.

      • ohitsdom

        Bad snap? Bad timing? Bad hold? It rarely happens, so I’d like to hear some analysis of what happened on the execution side.

  • chad

    Everyone says April was great in buffalo. Really? Were the birds fans saying that following buffalo’s special teams. Perhaps just repeating what the eagles told them