There were two instances during the Eagles’ 27-17 loss on Sunday where a punt flew over their returner’s head.
Both ensuing drives started inside the Eagles’ 10-yard line.
“That was unfortunate. Obviously, we got to catch the football,” Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said. “We got two good returners back there, those guys need to do a better job of fielding the ball. Obviously, in that situation there was some wind and weather and all that stuff factors into it. That being said, that's their job and that's why those guys were back there, to catch the ball.
“I still got a lot of confidence in those guys. I know they can do that, and we'll keep working on it in practice and we'll get better at it. We definitely gave up some field position there and put our offense back further on the field then it should have been and that didn't help our football team out.”
That first instance came in the second quarter when a 71-yard punt flew over Jalen Reagor’s head and was downed at the 6. Tough play but Fipp would prefer he catch it. The second instance came in the fourth when Greg Ward let a punt bounce at the 11 before settling to a stop at the 5. Ward said on Tuesday that he needs to catch it.
Different situations but the result was the same: Bad field position for the Eagles’ offense.
And that was a troubling theme in Sunday’s game. The Eagles’ average starting field position on Sunday was at the 16-yard line, while the Giants’ set up at the 32-yard line on average.
That’s a huge disparity.
What hurt even more on Sunday was that the Eagles had two special teams penalties on Sunday that really hurt them in the field position game. Corey Clement was called for a hold on a second quarter kickoff that backed the Eagles up from the 34 to the 9. And Shaun Bradley was called for a block in the back to start the second half that backed the Eagles up from their 28 to their 16.
“I would say this, unfortunately it seems like every time we have a decent return, we also have a penalty to go along with it,” Fipp said. “I thought there was a lot of good blocking on both those kickoff returns, and we had about nine guys doing a great job and then unfortunately we had a couple blocks that obviously are decisions that we just can't do. I got to do a better job of putting these guys in better situations in practice and what-not, but at the end of the day that definitely hurts us.”
During Fipp’s eight years in Philly, the Eagles have consistently been good on special teams. But they’re even struggling in that aspect this season. Special teams aren’t all about returns but they could certainly use a spark in the return game and that just hasn’t been there.
Through nine games, the Eagles are averaging just 18.6 yards per kick return (29th) and 5.7 yards per punt return (26th).
Their primary kick returners have been Boston Scott and Jason Huntley, while their primary punt returners have been Ward and now a healthy Reagor. Of course, it’s not all on the returners either. The blockers need to open lanes and not pick up careless penalties.
In general, average starting position is a team stat because field possession is a team game. But special teams play arguably the biggest role here and the Eagles haven’t been good in this area.
According to FootballOutsiders, the Eagles’ average starting position on offense is at 26.74 yards (24th) and their average opponent starting position is at 32.64 yards (31st).
There are a lot of big problems with the Eagles right now and they start from the top. We’re all worried about Howie Roseman, Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz. With that many problems, the margin for error becomes smaller and smaller. Breaking a return here and there would sure help.
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