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Eagles Special Teams Breakdown

Over 2000 words on special goodness!


The following post is a report on the Eagles special teams unit. The report has been conducted by wonderful writer Scott Kessler, formerly the manager and EIC of SBN Union blog: the Brotherly Game. Enjoy!


Bobby April’s surprisingly1 awful time as the Philadelphia Eagles’ special teams coach came to a merciful, but less than noticed conclusion. He was replaced by new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly with Dave Fipp2, who quietly made a name for himself during two seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

Fipp’s debut with the Eagles can be considered more than a success. It was a breath of relief. It was salvation. The days of games lost on special teams seemed like dreams of old3. Here was a night in which the battle was won not only on offense and defense, but also through a stellar evening by the special teams.

The following is a breakdown4 of Monday night’s special teams plays, some with pictures* to illustrate key points of strength and weakness.

First Quarter

  • Opening Kick Return: The Redskins lineup in the usual flat line, evenly split on both sides of Kai Forbath. The Eagles had six men at the 50-yard line, with two of them hugging the left and right sides of the Redskins insignia, one at the 35, two at the 20 and another at the 10 in front of Damaris Johnson. Forbath kicked off and the Eagles broke into a diamond between their 10 and 30 in front of the returner, while the two outside blockers at the 50-yard line dropped out of formation. Kurt Coleman broke across toward midfield on the 45, while his teammate on the far side of the field appeared to hold up and wait for the play to develop. The kickoff was caught about eight yards deep in the endzone and the Eagles kneeled, leading to Philadelphia starting the game off at their own 20-yard line.

  • PAT defense: Instant replay does the Eagles no good as the ruling on the field stands for a Redskins touchdown off of a deflected back pass. A bit of penetration off the sides by Philadelphia occurs on the play, but there is little movement up the middle. No pressure on Sav Rocca (holder) or Forbath (kicker) during the attempt, which was easily made, although the outside rushers were within a few steps at the end of it.

  • Kick Return: Johnson forced to kneel on the return as Forbath puts his kick about eight yards deep into the endzone. Eagles had begun to form a triangular blocking pattern in front of Johnson, prior to his decision to not take the ball out of the back field.

  • Field goal: (48-yard attempt) initial attempt was defended by the Redskins with a safe zone, Alex Henery sends the ball from the left hash to the right part of the area between the uprights. Ball goes through about halfway on that side, showing off Henery’s still developing power. However, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly chose to challenge the previous play right before the snap. Kick is called back and the special teams squad awaits the ruling on the field. The call is that the previous play was indeed an incomplete pass, giving Kelly an 0-1 challenge record and forces a second attempt by Henery from 48-yards. Donnie Jones holds again. Right down the middle, very close to the top of the uprights. Redskins manage to get two end rushers around the corners despite once again not using a typical field goal ‘blitz.’ Slightly concerning that the Eagles’ nine blockers were unable to handle only seven* rushers, but the plus is that Henery’s second kick looked even better than his first one.

  • Kick Off: The Eagles spread the ten players around Henery equally and the coverage team appeared to be heading in streak routes to find gaps. Henery’s kick is on the edge of the endzone and out of bounds, meaning no possibility of a return by the Redskins.

  • Extra point: Redskins overload the Eagles’ right side and get a man around it, but the Eagles are able to get something of a chip on him to prevent any worries for Henery. In addition, a Redskins player finds room on the left side of the formation, but, again, no chance of affecting the play. The snap is good, the hold fine and Henery hits the ball smoothly. Fourth point of the game for Henery.

  • Kickoff: Eagles again spread out their coverage team, but this time the flat formation breaks out with the wide players hanging behind - just a bit - of the interior runners. Another Henery kick that goes far too deep for a return.

  • Punt: Donnie Jones lands his punt in the hands of the Redskins punt return inside the five. Absolutely fantastic punt, especially for Jones’ first attempt of the regular season. Snap to Jones was right in his own hands, which allowed for a very clean kick and follow through for the punter. Eagles gunners were quick down the field and avoided most opposition. Blocking was set up in a staggered horseshoe and it held up against light Redskins attack.

  • Kickoff punt return: After a Redskins mistake that led to a safety, the Eagles get a chance to return a punt. The ball goes just inside the Eagles 30, with Desean Jackson returning. He gains about five yards. Eagles started out with three flat lines in front of Jackson (1-3-3-4), but they pinched the exterior blockers to give Jackson options if he broke through the first layer of gunners.

  • Punt: Jones puts this punt into the endzone, but it was an interesting matchup between blockers and coverage unit players. The Eagles were able to penetrate on the outsides of the field in the face of two versus ones, while the center of the field was quickly swarmed by Philadelphia players upon the success of their blocking. Unfortunately, Jones was unable to keep his punt in the 20 and the ball went out for a touchback.

Second Quarter:

  • Punt return: Johnson calls for a fair catch at the 17. Eagles left him with little other choice by choosing to devote most of their resources to breaking through the Redskins line. It nearly worked, with multiple Eagles getting close to Rocca as the ball left his foot.

  • Punt: Jones gets his first opportunity to show off his length strength. He sends the ball around 52 yards and the Redskins get a short return from Jones’ punt. Eagles punt protection left a small, but safe circle around Jones, who likely did not feel any pressure during his punt attempt. The Redskins were called for an illegal block in the back during the play, further pinning them back toward their own end zone.

  • Punt return: Jackson was back for the punt, but Rocca had his typical out of play punt, which was about 40 yards. Redskins successfully held the Eagles with a solid pocket around Rocca, who was punting out of the endzone on the play.

  • Extra point: Henery with another confidently taken point after attempt. Redskins managed, again, to get guys around the corners, but the Eagles are handling the rush by either chipping or forcing them too far outside on the turn to get to either the holder or the kick itself.

  • Kickoff: Amazing play by Polk on the first return on a kickoff by the Redskins. The former Washington running back was the first man down the field and easily got to his marker, the return man. The Redskins were only able to get to the nine after choosing to come from about three yards out of the endzone. Henery’s leg not as strong on this kickoff, but the goal on most - if not all - kick offs should be to at least make the returner think about kneeling.

  • Punt return: The Redskins punt after a three-and-out. Rocca punt from the ten is marked at the Washington 44-yard line. Rocca clearly was coached by the Redskins special teams staff to try to keep the ball away from Jackson, but in doing so fell into his weakness of placement. Rocca is a power punter, as most Eagles fans know from his time in Philadelphia. The poor punt gives the Eagles quality field position right away.

  • Kickoff: Eagles with an even split against the 1-1-2-1-6 that the Eagles used in the opening kickoff. Henery knocks the kick six yards deep into the Redskins end zone, where Chris Thompson received the ball, choosing almost immediately to make his move out of the back. Thompson was able to get to the Washington 13 behind decent blocking. Eagles coverage unit players had already broken through the vast majority of the Redskins blocking scheme and Thompson was easily handled.

Third quarter:

  • Kickoff: Same formations as previously seen for both teams. Henery forces another kneel out of the Redskins on a good kick in front of even better coverage.

  • Extra Point: Solid snap, hold and kick for the Eagles. Redskins rushers looked out of spirit, barely registering any care on the play despite actually having some room to move on the outside. Henery with another point.

  • Kickoff: Eagles cover with a triangle attack, with the Redskins countering in a 2-2 box in front of their return man. Eagles converge upon the box blocking scheme and immediately break apart the lanes for a return to go through.

  • Field goal defense: On 4th & 19, the Redskins went for a field goal from the 22-yard line. Forbath’s field goal attempt is no good as it tails off to the right almost from the kick itself, just missing out on crossing the uprights at the last second. Forbath can be seen looking at the kick in disgust as it’s called as a miss by the referees in the endzone. The snap was both fine, but the hold may have been barely late on the spinning of the ball and placement, as Forbath’s stride brought him into contact with the ball right as it was settling down.

  • Punt: Jones with pretty much the entire field to kick at this time around, standing on the five. Flag thrown as he kicks and the ball gets to the 24, with Thompson getting to the 34-yard line. The Eagles had a last ditch blocking effort to prevent the Redskins from getting to Jones as he released his kick, but they managed to make it work out. However, the Eagles had an illegal formation on the play and the Redskins elect to have the Eagles punt again, this time with Jones standing on the entrance to the end zone. Jones’ first punt went 57 yards, but he had the benefit of not being right on top of the endzone. His second attempt goes to the 25-yard line and Poyer meets the return man shortly thereafter. An even more impressive punt by Jones the second time around. Plenty of hang time and distance, along with quality and selective placement, by Jones throughout the game so far.

  • Extra point defense: Typical 10 man blitz by the Eagles, but the Redskins go from snap to kick fast enough to negate an equally quick rush by the defending special teams squad.

  • Kick return: Johnson chooses to take a running start from a somewhat deep position in the endzone on his return and he can’t get to the 20-yard line. Eagles start their drive from the 18.

Fourth quarter:

  • Kickoff return: Redskins coverage comes down in a flat, but the outside men on each side flair behind the rest of the runners. Forbath’s kick is caught in the endzone and kneels, putting the Eagles at the 20-yard line on their most important drive of the game.

  • Punt: Boykin gets down inside the five to get to Jones’ coffin corner punt, which bounces and rolls out inside of the Redskins 10. The special teams coverage unit seems to be very confident in Jones’ ability to place the ball very deep in either side’s corner. Jones has had quite the night.

  • Punt: After Cary Williams batted down a RGIII pass on 4th & 15, the Eagles milked the clock for a few minutes before they once again punted down inside the Redskins’ 20-yard line. Jones with another quality punt, giving the Redskins a starting point of the 11-yard line with only 3:42 left in the game. The coverage team knew exactly where to go for Jones’ punt, a common theme throughout the entire game and a good sign for the rest of the season, as previously discussed.

  • Extra point defense: Eagles outside rushers hop up to create illusion of pressure, but don’t try to go around, as both sides realize the inevitable. They walk off the field after the extra point and prepare for the ensuing onside kick by the Redskins.

  • Onside kick (Redskins): Chip Kelly takes a timeout after the Redskins shift a player from their left to the right side of the field, creating a 5-1-4 formation. The Eagles had only one player over the center of the top of the field at the time. The Eagles come back out with eight across the line, while reacting to the redskins, who try another 5-1-4. The kick is sent into the ground and it bounces past the first layer of the Eagles’ return unit and the first Eagle, Jason Avant, bobbles it while on the ground, with a second Eagle running into the area right after a Redskin tackled Avant nearly out of the play. Instead, Avant gets his right arm around the ball and the pile starts on top of him. The referees signal for the Eagles and they kneel twice to ice the game and provide Kelly with a win in his debut as Philadelphia’s head coach.

Stay tuned for more of these weekly special teams breakdowns in the future. I’ll try to make them more timely here on out now that my college schedule has been solidified. Leave any comments, criticism or questions in the comments section below. I’d love to get your feedback on how to improve these.

*(I was unable to get pictures this week because of laptop problems and school)

1 Bobby April’s time with the Eagles was supposed to be grand. It wasn’t. Despite having all of the promise in the world, April fell flat. His schemes on both sides of the ball on special teams constantly were behind the flow of play. Gunners weren’t getting to their men, blockers were failing to keep defensive players away from kickers and punters. Even the impressive debut season of Alex Henery was unable to enable April to leave his position with much, if any, legacy. It’s too bad, considering how poor the Eagles’ special teams were for some time during Andy Reid’s reign. There was much promise.

2 Anyone who claims to have known about Fipp prior to him signing with the Eagles is either a great liar or more of a special teams nerd than me. Neither is a good thing. Fipp’s Miami squad placed second overall in special teams statistics, per the Dallas Morning News’s sports section (which is something of quality that has actually come out of Dallas), in 2011 and fourth in 2012, after finishing 24th overall in 2010.

3 Take away the Miracles at the Meadowlands and the various other scattered touchdown returns, the Eagles’ special teams units have done more hard (read: Rocca, Sav) than good in recent times.

4 A few years back, I posted stuff about special teams. I can’t find it, but there’s that for my background. I also wrote a piece in the 2011 Maple Street Press Eagles Annual that Jason B. said "looked back at the career of David Akers and gave him a fine send off." It also talked about current Eagles kicker Alex Henery.

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