The 2018 Eagles are a massive disappointment, and there are plenty of reasons for why. One of them is that their special teams have gone from advantage to average, and in some cases a problem.
Dave Fipp didn’t suddenly become a bad coach, and in some areas his unit is as good as ever.
Where the Eagles are struggling are punt and kickoff returns.
Year to year inconsistency in special teams is nothing out of the ordinary. Bottom of the roster players come and go in the NFL, and one injury can have a huge knockoff effect. This year the Eagles were counting on Darren Sproles to return punts, he hasn’t been healthy since the first game of the year and they haven’t been able to adequately replace him. Five other players have returned a punt this year, last year Kenjon Barner handled all but two returns.
And that’s the problem with the Eagles special teams this season in a nutshell: they don’t have playmakers.
It’s not for lack of trying. The usage of the full roster hasn’t changed much. In 2014, the best season under Fipp, five players played at least a third of snaps on both special teams and offense or defense. This season, four have, with a fifth, Kamu Grugier-Hill, possibly getting there by season’s end. The dedication to roster construction hasn’t changed much either, Grugier-Hill was claimed off waivers to play special teams, Mack Hollins, Nate Gerry and Donnell Pumphrey were drafted in part to be special teams cogs, and this year signed LeRoy Reynolds, D.J. Alexander, and Josh Perkins.
The issue is that the top of the depth chart just doesn’t have the talent level of the past. From 2014-2016 Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman were the constants, while James Casey, Najee Goode, and Trey Burton each stepped up in successive years. Josh Huff was among kickoff return leaders in 2014 and 2016, and scored a touchdown in 2014 and 2015. Sproles was 1st, 2nd, and 3rd (had he had enough returns to qualify) in yards per punt return.
And the Eagles were always a threat to score on special teams, and not just when having the ball punted or kicked to them. From 2013-2016, the Eagles scored multiple special teams touchdowns each season. In the past two, they haven’t scored any.
Unfortunately there is no in-season solution for the Eagles. This offseason they will have several roster needs to address, and special teams can’t be overlooked.