In 2010, the Eagles hired a highly respected coach that was considered one of the best at what he does to fix a unit that in the eyes of the team was under performing.
In 2011, the Eagles hired another coach in a move that was mocked by many to fix a unit that was also under performing.
Since then, the 2 coaches have been on very different paths. The highly respected coach has been a disappointment and his unit has gotten worse each year. The coach that was mocked? His unit is improving each week and is now arguably the strength of this team.
The first coach? Bobby April. The second? Juan Castillo.
Which raises the question- where is all of the criticism for April?
Whenever anything goes wrong with the defense, Juan Castillo gets the blame. He was nearly run out of town last year despite his unit finishing 8th in total defense. Some of the criticism was warranted, as his defense had some tough games and blew multiple leads. The calls for his firing nearly reached the level of the calls for Reid's head.
Meanwhile April- who came in with much higher expectations- has been a complete disappointment. In 2009 when Ted Daisher was the Special Teams coach, the Eagles were excellent in the punting game (finishing 1st in punt return yards and 3rd in punt return yards allowed) and awful at kickoffs (30th in return yards, 21st in opponent yards).
Since April took over, the special teams unit has declined in each area. Take a look at these numbers.
Kick Return: 20.5....25th
Punt Return: 10.6....12th....1 TD
Opponent Kickoff: 12th....21.8
Opponent Punt Return: 9.1.....17th
Kickoff Returns: 20.9.....31st
Punt Returns: 7.1.....28th
Opponent Kickoff: 23.1.....19th
Opponent Punt: 5.7....3rd
Kickoff returns: 19.1 yards....31st
Punt returns: 5.0 yds.....31st
Opponent kickoff: 30.5....29th
Opponent punt return: 11.4....24th
Of the 12 chances April's unit has had to finish in the top 10 (4 categories, 3 years), they have finished in the top 10 only once.
To make matters worse, the Eagles have scored a grand total of 1 touchdown on special teams since April's arrival- and that was the Miracle and the Meadow Lands #2. To compare, the Eagles had 2 punt returns in Daisher's 1 year as Special Teams in 2009.
Not only have the Eagles not scored on kick returns, they have not even been close. The longest kick return since April arrived in Philadelphia was 46 yards. On average, his kickoff unit has averaged 20.06 yards per kick return. Meaning they could have just downed the ball on every kick since April arrived and have nearly the exact same average.
What are the reasons for the struggles? Last week against the Giants, many pointed to the fact that Akeem Jordan and Colt Anderson were missing. While that argument holds some weight, the fact is that injuries happen in the NFL every week. Juan Castillo was missing Jordan on defense, but his unit did not suffer to the extent April's did.
April has had the talent in the punt return game. DeSean Jackson is one of the most dangerous punt returners in the game, but April has been able to get 1 touchdown out of him in 2 years. Some of that falls on Jackson, but Daisher got 2 out of Jackson in one year. With Damaris Johnson back returning punts now, we are getting a better idea of how April's blocking schemes are working. Johnson is averaging 5 yards per return, and has shown poor judgement in knowing when to return kicks. Johnson is a rookie, but ultimately both of those fall on April- just like turnovers fall on Reid and breakdowns in coverage fall on Castillo.
The continued lack of production in the kick return game since Brandon Boykin took over is also shows how poor April has been as a Special Teams coach. Boykin was one of the best athletes in the draft and showed flashes during the preseason. But since the regular season has begun, Boykin has been a non-factor in the kicking game. Many people- including myself- blamed Dion Lewis last year for the problems in the kicking game. But after seeing Boykin for 4 games, maybe Lewis was not the problem last year.
As with any coach, you can always point to the players when explaining why they are not doing the job. But in Philadelphia, it appears only April is afforded that luxury. No one says Reid needs more talent. No one wanted to see what Castillo could do with more players.
It isn't the players. It isn't the injuries. It's Bobby April. He has been a complete disappointment since he arrived, and should be receiving more criticism than he is.
Follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks