Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

21 Oct 2005

Eagles Expect Better Play on Special Teams

FO ranks the Eagles special teams from 2000-2005: 6, 1, 4, 3, 3, 32. Which number does not belong? It's not just about Akers being injured and then absent -- the entire Philadelphia special teams has imploded with the exception of punter Dirk Johnson. The shuffling of players better work, because here comes Darren Sproles.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 21 Oct 2005

17 comments, Last at 24 Oct 2005, 4:40pm by Pat

Comments

1
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 2:16pm

And Dirk Johnson didn't practice yesterday because of groin problems.

Great. Just great.

2
by NF (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 3:54pm

IF Philadelphia had an average special teams, and they'd have the 7th best DVOA in the league. If the special teams were as good as they were last year, they'd be #5, ahead of every NFC team except the Giants. The problems with the Eagles this year begins with special teams, and if that is fixed, I think they will return to being the team to beat in the NFC, despite continuing problems elsewhere in the team.

3
by David (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 4:12pm

And I want a pony.

Also, why haven't I seen the Eagles' special-teams implosion linked at least in part to the departure of Ike Reese? Their coverage has been particularly godawful, and losing a pro-bowl linebacker from that unit has to have hurt somewhat.

4
by Ray (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 5:08pm

It probably did hurt David. That combined with Adams not playing as much makes for two big special teams playmakers taken off the coverage squads. I guess they thought they could find other guys to do the job just as well. What about Sean Considine? Wasn't he supposed to have a special teams impact? He isn't still hurt, is he?

5
by Ron Mexico (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 10:34pm

Dirk Johnson sounds like a good name for an adult film star.

6
by David (not verified) :: Sun, 10/23/2005 - 7:41pm

I'd like my pony now.

7
by tom (not verified) :: Sun, 10/23/2005 - 8:59pm

And Dallas lost, too. Ponies all round for Eagles fans...

8
by Pat (not verified) :: Sun, 10/23/2005 - 9:28pm

Yah, but the Giants won. So that counters that.

Really, though, this game didn't help the Eagles special teams. They had great coverage, and most of the punts were good, although he had a 22 yard punt which really, really hurt - that's what allowed the Chargers to score the second touchdown. Dirk Johnson's one of the best punters in the league - that shouldn't've happened.

But the problem is still the punt return/kick return teams. I can't blame them for some of them - you've got to call for a fair catch when you've got the opposing team all around you - but they muffed another kick, and in general got nothing on returns. They have got to find a kick/punt returner.

9
by Jay B. (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 1:37am

Pat or anyone else who saw the game (I was on the road, and only saw the highlights):

Did Lito Sheppard make it into the game as a returner? I recall reading this past week that he might (would?) be used for that, at least some.

I for one would love to see it. I think Lito's a bit overrated as a cornerback, but he's absolutely electric with the ball in his hands. He's incredible at reading and waiting for blocks.

10
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 1:46am

Yah, he did, but he never got a returnable punt. I'm much more up on Sheppard as a corner. Does he get beaten a lot? Eh, often enough, but notice how often Dawkins blitzes or is up for run support. Every time that happens, Sheppard and Brown are alone on islands. If they were playing in any other defense, no one would be questioning them ever.

11
by Andrew (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 9:23am

Ask and ye shall receive sayeth the Lord.

12
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 11:09am

Ask and ye shall receive sayeth the Lord.
Only if you win the coin-toss.

13
by tom (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 11:46am

yeah, there are still concerns there; Sheppard, or even Moats, was never going to be the answer for us either, not straight away. It's all to do with whether or not the returner gets the blocking to set things up, and that's a lot of what's been going wrong. I think the special teams did a fairly good job defensively, though, even discounting that block and score.

14
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 1:17pm

Though, to be fair, that block was apparently not random, but good special teams play. Mikell apparently noticed that the kicker had been kicking low, and that they had been getting penetration on one side, and so the field-goal unit had decided on that play to specifically push to try to spring Mikell. And it worked. So kudos to the special teams unit for doing that, especially on such a critical play.

15
by Andrew (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 3:39pm

Pat:

The Quentin Mikell planned blocking play just goes to show you that not all blocked field goals are random.

This reminds me of the game last year where Harbaugh purposefully inserted Kearse into special teams on punt safe coverage with the intent of blocking a punt, and Kearse did it, excitedly running up to the coach to talk about it afterwards and how he'd done it just like Harbaugh had shown him to in practice, according to media reports.

I have a feeling that if the whole blocking thing were carefully studied for punts, field goals, and extra points, we'd find the blocks aren't that random, but frequently come from game planning, but that recoveries of blocks for touchdowns, like fumble returns for touchdowns, are random from the bounce of the ball.

16
by B (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 4:03pm

If blocking a kick is purely a matter of skill, shouldn't it happen more often? Why don't the Eagles put Kearse in special teams all the time?

17
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 4:40pm

Andrew: in the open discussion thread, I pointed out the fact that even if blocks aren't random, you're never going to be able to distinguish them from random. There just aren't enough per year.

If blocking a kick is purely a matter of skill, shouldn’t it happen more often?

Nope - you can imagine that in order to block the kick, you need to first find a weakness in the field goal kicking team's blocking. If that weakness isn't there, or you don't see it or are unable to exploit it, nothing happens.

Why don’t the Eagles put Kearse in special teams all the time?

The kick in question was a punt. You're not always going to try to block a punt - the chance of a good return is higher than a punt block.

Wait, maybe not, with the Eagles this year...