Michael Clay’s goal is for his special teams units to help the Eagles win a Super Bowl.
The Eagles might win a Super Bowl, but at least so far it’s not because of special teams.
It’s despite special teams.
“I think in any profession - as journalists and myself as coaches - when you feel like you didn't do as well as you possibly could do, you're going to feel bad about it,” Clay said. “You always want to strive for perfection in this profession because it is a production-based business.
“For myself, I don't think anybody is a harder critic than myself. Even if it was a 10-yard punt return, I'm always going to want to strive to be better to get us going and create a long field for the defense. If we get tackled inside the 20, I'm not going to feel good about our kickoff return right there.”
Sunday was another disaster for Clay’s special teams.
The Packers’ Keisean Nixon had returns of 38, 52 and 53 yards in the Eagles’ 40-33 win, and he became the first player with three kick returns over 35 yards against the Eagles since David Wilson had four of them - 36, 45, 48 and 53 yards - in the Eagles’ 19-17 win over the Giants early in 2012 at the Linc.
Nixon’s 38-yarder gave the Packers possession at their 41 and led to a touchdown, his 52-yarder gave the Packers possession near midfield but the Eagles’ defense forced a 3-and-out, and his 53-yarder also gave the Packers’ offense the ball just inside midfield and set up a field goal.
Eagles kick coverage was so feeble Nixon brought out the last two returns from five and six yards deep.
But this is the way the season has gone for Eagles special teams. They’ve gotten fooled on two fake punts, had a field goal blocked, muffed two punts, committed costly penalties and now almost lost a game because of terrible kick coverage.
Clay, in his second year back with the Eagles after coaching here under Dave Fipp on Chip Kelly’s staff in 2014 and 2015, said he takes performances like this personally.
“The goals that I have in my mind, knowing who we have on this team to help this team get to the ultimate goal, which is let's win the division, let’s make a playoff run, and let’s get to the Super Bowl, it's always not going to feel good coming back after that performance.
“I'm always fortunate enough to look back at it, whereas you won. It's hard to win in the NFL. Again, I'm always going to be hard on myself. Just the person I am, just how I was raised from my parents, just to strive to be the best I possibly be and get these guys to play at a level I know they can play.
“Again, 10-1 in the NFL, being able to help out in a playoff run, that's awesome to wake up every morning to say, ‘Hey, I can help make this team better in terms of that.’ But it all starts from … looking at the film, looking myself in the mirror (and asking), ‘How can I get these guys better? What drills can I do? How can I explain it better to them where they understand it and it clicks and they can play a little bit faster.’
“Yes, I’m going to be disappointed in myself, but, again, I have the opportunity to help make this team better going forward in these last six weeks.”
Clay said Howie Roseman pulled him aside on Monday, a day after special teams’ latest disaster, and gave him a sort of vote of confidence, reminding him that despite all of his group’s issues, the Eagles are 10-1 with the best record in the NFL and a clear path to the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
“You have a sour taste in your mouth, but you’ve also got to look at the big picture again,” Clay said. “ I've been in situations back-to-back years where I was 1-10 through 11 games. Howie kind of said this to me: ‘We're 10-1, so there are a lot worse situations.’"