Special Teams Are Killing the Eagles

Five of the Eagles’ six games so far have been decided by a field goal or less.

It’s really an amazing number when you think about it. That’s why you’ll hear many argue that the Eagles could very well be a 1-5 team right now, while others make the case that they’re only a handful of plays away from 5-1.

The truth is, both parties are right. But the Eagles are 3-3 after six, and given all the bounces, calls, etc., that’s probably just about where they should be.

Given the way the offense has struggled, it’s likely that they are going to play a lot more close games the rest of the way.

And that’s why it’s time to start paying more attention to how special teams are simply killing the Eagles. The Birds are not coming close to winning the field-position battle on a week-to-week basis.

Let’s start with the return units because this is where the Eagles made changes in the offseason. DeSean Jackson, who was ineffective as a punt returner last year, was replaced by Damaris Johnson. Johnson was inactive last week, and Mardy Gilyard combined with Jackson to take over.

Dion Lewis, who was ineffective as a kick returner in 2011, was replaced by fourth-round pick Brandon Boykin.

Through six games, the results on both fronts are ugly.

On kickoffs, the Eagles are averaging 20.8 yards per return. That’s 26th in the league and no improvement at all from last year when they averaged 20.9 yards. Their long, which came last week against the Lions, is 31 yards. The Eagles are the only team in the NFL without one return of at least 35 yards in the past two seasons.

As for punt returns, the Eagles are one of two teams that have not had a return longer than 13 yards. Football Outsiders ranks the Eagles’ punt-return unit 29th in the league.

And then there are the coverage teams. The Eagles are giving up 12.4 yards per punt return, sixth-worst in the league. They started the season with Chas Henry and then moved on to Mat McBriar. Overall, the Eagles’ punt/punt coverage unit ranks 28th, per Football Outsiders.

The kickoff coverage unit has been bad as well. The Eagles are allowing 28.3 yards per return, fifth-worst.

All of these numbers translate to poor field position – both on offense and defense. Offensively, the Eagles are averaging 17.2 points per game, second-worst in the NFL. While turnovers are killing them (17, second-most in the league), field position isn’t helping. According to Football Outsiders, the offense’s average starting field position is its own 23.47-yard-line. That’s fourth-worst in the NFL.

Defensively, the Eagles are allowing 20.8 points per game, which ranks 13th. But that doesn’t tell the whole story when you consider that opponents are starting drives at their own 31.58 yard line, the second-worst mark in the league. To be fair, turnovers are a big factor here too, but the as the numbers above indicate, the coverage units are not getting the job done either.

According to Football Outsiders’ rankings, Bobby April’s unit ranked 12th in 2010 and 17th in 2011. This year, the Eagles are 27th. That’s not a good trend.

You can blame April. Or you can blame Andy Reid and Howie Roseman for the roster. To be honest, I’d have to do a little more research to figure out which side of the fence I’m on, and the reality is both parties are probably responsible.

But when discussing areas that need major improvement in the final 10 games, it’s clear that special teams has to be near the top of the list.

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