Eagles Special Teams a Major Factor Vs. Cardinals

Had the Eagles lost Sunday’s game against the Ravens, Bobby April’s special-teams unit would have fielded its share of the blame this week.

Looking ahead to the matchup against the Cardinals, special teams very well could determine the difference between a win and a loss.

Let’s start with the punter. A week after making the Eagles look smart for choosing him over Mat McBriar, second-year player Chas Henry had major issues against the Ravens.

Here’s what his five punts looked like:

No. 1: A 56-yarder that Jacoby Jones caught at the Ravens’ 7 and returned 18 yards to the 25.

No. 2: A 32-yarder that was downed by the Eagles and gave Baltimore possession at its own 43.

No. 3: A 38-yarder that was returned 10 yards and gave the Ravens possession at the Eagles’ 38. This one was particularly costly, as the Ravens ran one play before kicking a 56-yard field goal at the end of the half.

No. 4: A 40-yarder that was returned 6 yards and gave Baltimore possession at its own 41.

No. 5: A 30-yarder that was fair caught at the Ravens’ 22.

Like I said, not a good day. But what was the issue? After all, Henry has never looked better than he did Week 1 against the Browns.

“He doesn’t drop the ball consistently,” April said. “He’s got a little bit of a technical flaw where he has a habit of either throwing his little finger in or his thumb out, and it causes the drop of the ball not to be correct. It’s something that he constantly works on, and it’s just something in there that he’s got to get out of. And for our team, he’s got to get out of it yesterday.

“It’s just something that rises up. It’s a thing that comes into play. I’m not sure why it comes into play and what makes it come into play on some punts, and what makes it not come in to play on other punts, but it’s something that he has to work at.”

The Eagles’ punt coverage unit faces a huge challenge Sunday going against arguably the league’s most dangerous return man in Patrick Peterson. Peterson returned four punts for touchdowns last season, tying an NFL record.

“He’s really talented because he’s so big,” April said. “It would be like if we had DeMeco Ryans back there returning punts. And he’s fast, so what happens, he breaks a lot of tackles where a lot of guys would go down. The coverage would stop him, but he runs through it, and he barely gets dinged.”

April, of course, is exaggerating a bit. Peterson measured at 6-0, 219 last season, while Ryans is at 6-1, 247, but you get the point.

So far this season, Akeem Jordan leads the Eagles with four special-teams tackles. Curtis Marsh and Casey Matthews each have three. Brandon Hughes has been the first man down in coverage on six occasions, tops on the team. Brian Rolle, Jordan and Colt Anderson have each gotten there four times. That’s particularly impressive for Anderson, who didn’t play in the first game.

One other area to keep an eye on is the Eagles’ field-goal unit. Alex Henery has made two of three attempts this year – hitting on a 23-yarder and a 42-yarder, while missing a 45-yard attempt in Week 1. The Cardinals have the best field-goal block team in the league. Last year, they blocked five of them. According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, they’ve blocked 11 field goals in the past three seasons. The average team has less than one field goal block per season.

The unit is led by Calais Campbell, the 6-foot-8 defensive end, who blocked three field goals last year.

“They believe that they’re going to get it,” April said. “You can tell by the way they play. They believe they’re going to get it. So that’s their greatest thing. Certainly he’s [Campbell] a factor in there, but the other real factor is Patrick Peterson. He comes off that edge. Man, he is really a good player.”

Peterson had the other two field-goal blocks for the Cardinals in 2011. And April said Adrian Wilson is a factor too.

The Eagles’ first two games were each decided by a point. If that’s the case again Sunday, special teams could make the difference.