Wake-Up Call: The Elephant In the Room
Deep down, in places Eagles fans don’t talk about at parties, there’s a realization that special teams could play a big part in determining this team’s fate.
It’s not the most comforting of thoughts, particularly after a game in Minnesota that turned the term “squib” into a curse word in Philadelphia. It’s far more desirable to tie one’s fortunes to the likes of LeSean McCoy or DeSean Jackson or DeMeco Ryans, but that’s not always the way it works out. Sometimes it comes down to the Alex Henery‘s of the world.
The city doesn’t seem to have a ton of faith in the former fourth-round pick at the moment. The most accurate kicker in NCAA history ranks 23rd in the NFL in field goal percentage this year, converting 80.8 percent of his tries. Jimmy Kempski points out that Henery has the fewest field goal attempts from 50-plus yards (5) since he joined the league in 2011. He has missed four of 10 attempts of 40-plus yards this year. This all ties into the general concern about his leg strength.
There is the issue of getting the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs. The Eagles rank 23rd in touchback percentage (43 percent). Chip Kelly said after testing Henery’s leg pregame against the Vikings, the team decided to avoid kicking to Cordarrelle Patterson. According to Henery, the game plan remained the same all week. It would have taken him routinely booming the ball out of the back of the end zone to change an approach they had been planning for days.
Henery estimated that he gets 4-5 kickoffs per game. How many would he have been able to get out of the end zone against the Vikings?
“I don’t know. You can only wonder, I guess you could say,” said Henery. “If you got three out [of bounds] but the one you didn’t get out he takes to the house…”
The Nebraska product has already established a career-high in touchbacks (33) this season, and is on pace to set a new best in touchback percentage as well. So really, he’s getting stronger in that area. Still, the Eagles remain in the bottom of the league in that category.
“It’s not one of the easier places to kick here, so if I’m middle of the pack sometimes that’s good because some teams are playing in warm weather at end of the year, and that affects those numbers,” said Henery. “You kind of have to look at it that way. You’re not going to be able to hit a touchback here like you’d be able to in Arizona or something like that.”
Bottom line, he can’t kick it out of end zone consistently. That’s why Kelly and special teams coach Dave Fipp opted not to risk kicking to Patterson. Now, they face a similar dilemma with Bears standout return man Devin Hester. And Dallas’ Dwayne Harris after that.
Special teams overall has been up and down. Punter Donnie Jones has been exceptional. He has 30 punts on the year that have pinned opponents inside their own 20, good for third in the league. Meanwhile, the Eagles are 20th in kick return yards and 30th in punt return yards.
Kelly is a special-teams friendly head coach. He requires that back-ups are able to contribute on specials, and routinely sits in on Fipps’ meetings. For all the attention paid to this phase of the game, they need to start seeing better results.
“I know along the way there’s been some good, some bad,” said Fipp. “There’s been some things we’ve done a great job of at times, there’s some things we’ve done a bad job at times. We knew when we started this thing we had a long way to go, and still do.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
Jason Avant‘s value, Nick Foles‘ yoga skills and more in the latest Inside Voices.
Good news for the secondary, as Brandon Boykin returns to practice.
A look at exactly what this Eagles defense is up against.
Sheil gives us three numbers that matter.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
ESPN Bears blogger Michael C. Wright talks about the challenge of stopping Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
In the past, teams focused most of their game plan on shutting down Marshall. That involved double-teams and shading coverage over to his side. Teams are now finding they can’t do that anymore because if you double Marshall, you put Jeffery in one-on-one matchups that he’s going to win the majority of the time. The Bears say teams are now starting to mix it up against those receivers, which makes it important for Cutler to be able to quickly recognize the coverage and distribute the ball accordingly. I wouldn’t say Jeffery is the better receiver overall at this point, but I will say that he tracks the ball in the air better than anybody else on Chicago’s roster, which has allowed him to make some unbelievable grabs in contested situations. I’d say one player to watch is No. 3 receiver Earl Bennett. With all the focus on Marshall and Jeffery, the Bears have made it a point in recent weeks to involve Bennett more in the offense. Remember, Bennett played college football with Cutler at Vanderbilt, so there’s chemistry. Bennett has hauled in a touchdown in each of the past two games.
Bob Brookover did some research to see if time of possession is irrelevant, as the head coach claims.
Based on what I found, the Eagles should not just be dead in the NFC playoff race, they also should be buried beneath just about every other team in the conference. Since 2000, no team that has finished last in the NFL in time of possession has had a winning record. Only one team – the 2006 Tennessee Titans – finished at .500. The combined record of the 13 teams to finish last in time of possession is 57-151.
Some of the NFL’s historically bad teams have been among the teams that just didn’t possess the football enough. Detroit’s 0-16 team in 2008 was next to last in time of possession and Carolina’s 1-15 team in 2001 was last.
Kelly’s Eagles are the anomaly.
We’ll roll out our predictions for Eagles-Bears.