I pointed out yesterday that the Lions have the worst STs in the league. The Eagles are struggling in this area as well. So which unit has the better game on Sunday? Bobby April better hope his group gets the best of this lowdown showdown.
I wrote about the Eagles STs last week for SB Nation Philly. There is a need for better coaching, but the on-field execution is the real problem. You watch All-22 clips and don’t see good running lanes for Brandon Boykin or Damaris Johnson. Those guys need room to run.
Let’s be careful when talking about KO coverage. The Giants game was almost a disaster, but the 2 best STers (Akeem Jordan and Colt Anderson) were out. That doesn’t excuse the ineptitude they showed in the game, but with those 2 players back the coverage should be much improved. And you saw Anderson fly down and make a great tackle last week, stopping a KOR inside the 10-yard line. That’s a rare feat.
This week the Eagles cut LB Adrian Moten, who had just been added to help with STs. I watched Moten on several plays last week. He was not impressive. He almost made a tackle on a KOR, but was non-existent in punt coverage. His blocking didn’t look good, although judging blocking on returns is tough. You have to know exactly what the coach wanted on that particular play. I’m no STs guru.
LB Jason Williams was signed to take Moten’s place. Williams was drafted by Dallas and then played some with Carolina. He had 9 STs tackles in 2010. He had a FF while covering a KO last year. Not sure of his STs tackles total. He also has started a few games at LB.
Williams saw Moten get a quick hook so that tells him about the situation he’s walking into. You produce, you stay. You don’t…then hit the bricks, pal. You’re not wanted.
Let’s go back to the return game. What is wrong with Boykin and Johnson? Both players were very accomplished college returners. Numbers can be deceiving, though. Jeremy Maclin was a great RS in college, but has looked almost completely lost in the NFL as a returner.
I liked what I saw of Boykin and Johnson. Boykin caught the ball and ran N-S. He used his speed to get through the defense and into the open. Right now you watch him and he seems to be thinking too much. He’s reading blocks and trying to figure out where to go. I think things will click eventually. It is frustrating that we’re 5 games into the season and he’s still struggling. Not all returners thrive from Day One.
Johnson looked very good this summer. He was elusive and looked very natural as the PR. I think the biggest issue with him is lack of space. He caught a punt the other day with 2 defenders on him. Nobody is going to be successful like that.
I know many people hate him catching the ball inside the 10. That used to be a major no-no. The game has changed and some coaches are fine with that. I don’t know how Bobby April feels. I wish one of the beat writers would talk to him on that issue. If Damaris was told not to do it, then he should be benched. If he was told that catching the ball outside the 5-yard line is okay, then he’s okay.
The reason some coaches have changed their tune on catching punts that deep is that guys now have figured out how to get backspin on the ball. I want to say Ben Graham was the guy who came up with this, but I could be way off with that. Punters now drop the ball so that the tip hits their toe. The ball deadens on contact, and then rolls backward. Used to be that most punts hit the ground and kept going forward. There was no reason to catch the ball inside the 10.
What about DeSean? April said he might get a chance this weekend or the next. Might. I think the Eagles wanted to see what Damaris could do. They gave him 5 games. He’s not stood out to the point where you feel obligated to play him. He’s not been as bad as some critics would make him out to be. The other reason to hesitate using DeSean is that Jeremy Maclin hasn’t been 100 percent healthy. With him less than fully effective, the last thing you wanted to do was take your explosive receiver and put him on the field for STs plays. I realize that PRs aren’t commonly injured. KOR is the more dangerous spot. Still, why tempt fate?
Mac is close to being all the way back now. And with the Lions STs struggles, there is some sense to putting DeSean back there. I definitely think he’ll be mixed in as the PR during the rest of the season. They’ll have Damaris do a lot of it, but it does make sense to put DeSean back there at times. If nothing else, it will scare the heck out of the kicking team.
There are some years when the offense is clicking and you can overcome average to bad field position. This isn’t one of them. It would be great if Mike Vick and the offense could start the opening drive on Sunday from the 35 or 40 instead of sitting back at the 20.
STs have been a problem this year. They don’t have to instantly become a strength, but it would be nice if they could find some middle ground. Help the team win the field position battle in some games. Don’t turn the ball over. Make a big play here and there.
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Any of you who spent time on the Eagles Message Board (EMB) know there is a STs guru over there. He goes by FranklinFldEBUpper. He writes up notes on each game and has given me permission to post them here. He knows his stuff and you might like the detail he goes into with the kicking game. One note…he really hates Brandon Boykin, as you’ll see at the end.
Steelers game. At least the kickoff coverage wasn’t putrid every damn time.
Punting. Mat McBriar punted four times and averaged (from LOS to where the ball landed or was caught) about 42.3 yards with 4.37 hangtime. Three of his punts had 4.5 seconds or more hangtime. Two of his punts were hit to the area outside the numbers. Pittsburgh’s Drew Butler had four official punts, but he actually punted the ball six times due to penalties. Since those two other punts were “live” plays, I’ve included them in the data. On his six punts, he averaged about 45.3 yards with 4.44 hangtime. Four of the six had hangtimes of at least 4.5 seconds. Only one punt (obviously the Steelers don’t look to directionally punt towards the sidelines too often) was hit to the numbers or outside. The slight edge on the day goes to the Steelers, putting McBriar’s theoretical W-L record at 1-1 and the opponents record at 2-3.
McBriar is now averaging about 44.0 yards and 4.28 hangtime with 50% of his punts reaching the 4.5 second mark and 75% of them hit to the numbers. Eagles opponents (not just McBriar’s opponents) are averaging about 45.6 yards and 4.53 hangtime with 59% having 4.5 hangtime or better and 52% hit to the numbers. Truth be told, Eagles opponents have been punting quite well this year, which may explain why Damaris Johnson has been fair catching so many balls and has been bottled up a lot on his returns. These numbers should go down dramatically now that the warm months are over.
Kickoffs. Alex Henery kicked off three times and averaged about 68.7 yards (nearly four yards deep in the endzone) with 4.05 hangtime. Shaun Suisham kicked off four times but one was a squib at the end of the half. His three legitimate kickoffs averaged about 68.7 yards with 4.04 hangtime. Nearly identical to Henery.
Through the season, Henery is now averaging about 70.5 yards with 4.04 hangtime. Eagles opponents are averaging about 70.0 yards with 4.03 hangtime. Very similar numbers. There’s no reason why the Eagles should be losing the field position game on kickoffs as badly as they have been.
I was very, very impressed with the Steelers field goal/extra point kicking game. Their snap-to-foot times were excellent. Suisham was getting his foot to the ball in generally less than 1.2 seconds after the ball was snapped. His game-winning field goal seemed even quicker than that. There is very little hope of blocking a kick like that. Kudos to them, I guess.
* Colt Anderson is my hero. The guy is probably the best special teams player I’ve ever looked at with more than just a casual glance. He did a great job on the first kickoff, knifing through the blocking and bringing down the returner at the 8-yard line. And he came within a whisker of doing the same thing on the next kickoff, the one which was brought out for a big gain. (I would say that Brandon Hughes was the main culprit there — he had the returner dead to rights and missed.) Not only is Anderson so great on coverage, but he also shows awareness galore. For example, on the one punt that Butler hit poorly — the ball which hit the ground and rolled for a bit — Anderson stood nearby as the Steelers were getting ready to down it, just waiting to pounce on the ball the moment a Pittsburgh player touched it first, knowing fully well that there is no downside to doing that because even if he were to fumble, it would still be the Eagles ball at the spot of the first touching. The Steelers were smartly aware of exactly what he as doing and refused to give him the opportunity. But the fact that he was so alert to the possibility is refreshing.
* Did anyone actually think when Brandon Boykin returned the opening kickoff from five yards deep that he was actually going to get the ball to the 20-yard line? HA!!!! I think the Eagles are destined to start all their offensive series from the 17-yard line this year when the other team kicks off.
I’ll be posting those from now on. Should help us to better judge STs.