Let’s Talk Special Teams

Posted: October 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 32 Comments »

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.

* * * * *

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.

Other stuff:

* 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.


  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.lee.735 Daniel Lee

    not to sound like a newbie, but for punts, what does hitting to the numbers mean?

    • TommyLawlor

      The numbers on the field (yard lines – 50, 40, 30, etc). They are used as a point of reference/landmark on OFF, DEF, and STs. There is little room between the numbers and the sideline. Punters love to pin the RS in that area so that the sideline can then act as a defender.

  • Elk Run

    Since Rilely Cooper has had good numbers as a special team player, you have to wonder why he isn’t being activated instead of bringing players in off the street. Can his WR play be that much behind Gilyard’s that they don’t want to release him? That would be a bigger problem.

    • Crus57

      Hard to say, since Cooper has spent all of this season so far recovering from a broken collarbone.

    • TommyLawlor

      Team is bringing him back slowly. Collarbone must be able to deal with STs hitting/contact. This could be his first game back.

  • ohitsdom

    Bobby April was asked about Damaris catching the ball inside the 10, and he basically said the Damaris lost awareness of where he was. April said he coaches him to stand on the 10 yard line, and if the ball is over your head just let it go. I tried finding a link for you but no luck… Several people reported it, it was 2 or 3 weeks ago.

  • ACViking

    Re: The dead-ball punt

    T-Law:

    In the ’70s and ’80s, punters tried to angle the ball toward the flag in the front corner of the EZ. Two the absolute best were NYG punters Tom Blanchard and, especially, Dave Jennings (at least as I remember). Rohn Stark of the Colts was another very, very good one. As was the Raiders’ Ray Guy later in his career. But angle punting was risky because if a punter’s drop missed by just a couple millimeters, the ball either sailed out of bounds 25 yards down field, gave the returner a chance, or bounded into the EZ.

    Just a thoery . . . but “angle” punting evolved out of necessity because so many stadiums had astro-turf (or concrete covered by green carpeting, like the Vet).

    In the 1990s, as new stadiums came on line and new grass-like surfaces (and subsurfaces) were developed, the “dead-ball” punt became a growing option and the “angle punt” began to disappear.

    Chris Gardocki — with Chicago, Indy, Cleveland, and Pitt — was among the first masters of backspin.

    Not sure if he was the first in his class at that technique, but — as Bum Phillips once said — it wouldn’t take long to call roll.

    • TommyLawlor

      You and I remember when Punters went for the “coffin corner”. Virtually no one does that now. Funny how the game changes. Do you follow college? The thing there now is rugby style punting. I doubt that ever comes to the NFL, but you never know.

      • http://twitter.com/benjabad Ben Hert

        I feel like you should special guest star ACViking on one of your podcasts. That would be amazing, and also most likely 7-8 hours long, I’d imagine, but interesting for every second.

        • TheRogerPodacter

          a once a week history lesson would be well received, i think. our resident historian is greatly appreciated here!

      • Tom33

        Had this conversation with a 50-something friend the other day – talking about Ray Guy vs Shane Lechler as best punter ever. I still think the “coffin corner” kick is more reliable than the bounce of the ball – but maybe that’s just because I don’t remember the Eagles’ kickers being able to kill the ball inside the 5. To be fair – I remember barefoot placekickers too!

      • ACViking

        I do watch some college games.

        The rugby punt seems so odd because — except for fumble snaps or forced scrambles by the punter — we don’t see it in the NFL.

        But in college, with no rule barring the kicking team from running down field on the snap, the rugby punt — with can be executed quickly — actually makes quite a bit of sense.

      • Ark87

        So why doesn’t anyone go for the coffin corner anymore? ***HUGE DISCLAIMER*** the Madden video game is one of the worst representations of football in the universe BUT when I punted in said video game (just kidding no one punts in that game, 4th and 19, NO PROBLEM!) I never kicked that thing in the field of play, why give them a chance to make a play, are you really that desperate for the off-chance of a muff? Seems to me they are as likely to take one to the house or at the very least get a good return.

        Now that I’ve totally lost everyone’s respect for admitting I play that game-switching gears. I’ve been wondering when we would turn to the coffin corner and squib kicks. Concerning Henery on kick-offs, I wonder if kickers are told to try to land the ball about 4-6 yards into the end zone (kicking the ball out of the end zone wasn’t THAT great of a feat BEFORE the kicking tee was moved up). With coverage being so bad, is Henery asked to keep the ball in play or is he just not able to clear the end zone consistently (to go with the question to Bobby April, are you teaching Damaris to fair catch those balls at the 5 yard line, because isn’t backspin going to net you at least a few yards?)

        • ACViking

          here’s an ESPN article by Mike Sando answering your question:

          http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/columns/story?columnist=sando_mike&id=3111471

          • Ark87

            That’s one hell of an article ACV. Didn’t realize the outside rush is a tool used to funnel a punt to a returner as much as it is there to block the punt. Also once you get the sense of how fast all this happens, it really help you appreciate the effect that bad snap had on Matt Dodge in that fateful play in 2010. That poor kid, no body linked this article when people were screaming WHY THE HELL DID HE LET THAT THING GET ANYWHERE NEAR DESEAN FREAKING JACKSON RAAAAWWWGRkGHFGJKFuhSfgj!!11!!1!!

            On the second point of the article. It is interesting that Hester did actually muff or fumble more than he scored TD’s. But that is still the sketchiest point on the list. I saw all of Djax’s returns in 09, he took a bunch to the house, but may more were very nice returns, 1 broken tackle, 1 shoelace from being a TD. It’s just not a gamble I would take if I didn’t have to when I have a bad coverage unit (but like point 1 illustrated, sometimes you do have to).

            The 3rd point is very interesting, kids just aren’t skilled directional punters anymore. On special teams, 1 bad game, hell one bad punt (poor Matt Dodge) will cost you your career in this league. They specialize with everything they have on 1 punt technique for consistency.

        • Gary

          You didn’t lose my respect, for I, too, play Madden. Hi, my name is Gary and I play Madden. And it’s funny, while reading about coffin corner punts I immediately thought of that mini-game that was in old versions of Madden.

  • nicolajNN

    Semi-related to specials teams. We usually have 4 or 5 (mostly 5?) wrs active on game-day, if Cooper is ready, do you then have Gilyard sit or deactivate someone else? 6 wrs might be a lot but Cooper would be 4th wr and an upgrade there over the two other and he’s good on ST. Johnson is your PR. Gilyard is probably expendable, but he seems to have done a good job on ST.

    • poetx99

      i was wondering about that, too. gilyard has been ok on ST (at least by comparison). trent edwards should be inactive. vinny curry. polk or lewis, probably. polk is on teams, but i don’t know how well he does. if he’s doing well, i’d think that would have to send lewis back to street clothes, since he’s not on coverage.

  • Mac

    Very cool post from FranklinFldEBUpper. I agree that will help all of us understand special teams play. Good read.

  • http://www.facebook.com/basebal646 Patrick Pauling

    Hey Tommy, you ready for the O’s game tonight? It has been one heck of a ride and it’s not over yet. The O’s and Eagles have something in common too, they both love to give us heart attacks with their close wins… and loses :(

  • A_T_G

    I believe you that FranklinField doesn’t like Boykin, but to me his comment read more as a criticism of the entire unit

  • ACViking

    Re: The “Coffin Corner” kick

    T-Law rightly explained that my reference to punts angled toward the near EZ flag were called “coffin corner” kicks.

    The term “coffin corner” originated in the 1890s in the Philadelphia media — covering a now-forgotten punter for (I’m proud to say) the University of Pennsylvania.

    By the way, the term found its way into the headlines during WW-II in July 1943. When Patton’s 7th Army pinned Nazi troops — along with British forces under Montgomery — at the sharp, northeast tip of Sicily just across from Italy, the American press described the Germans as being in Sicily’s “coffin corner.”

    • TommyLawlor

      Wow, didn’t know that. Great info as usual.

  • Steag209

    http://espn.go.com/blog/nfceast/post/_/id/44284/evidence-supports-gilbride-vs-harbaugh

    Could this be happening to our OL when teams run stunts, more than the OL having mental errors and not passing off correctly? I mean, obviously some of them are mental, they’re human, but with the alignment of the ref behind the offense isn’t it possible? It doesn’t happen to our DL very often because we just rush 4, with (as far as I’ve seen but I may be wrong) minimal stunts.

  • Flyin

    Latest h2h show…

    http://helmet2helmetshow.com/

  • mhrinda

    Bobby April = overrated
    Wanted: cheap replacement with some fire and a plan that actually works on gameday. Excuse makers need not apply.

    • A_T_G

      But, would excuse-makers be able to come up with a reason why they should be a unique situation and be allowed to apply?

      That’s kind of like a Braille “Do Not Touch” sign.

  • GermanEagle

    Tommy,
    this might be a topic/thread of its own but who would you rather have, when the game is on line. The Eagles O or D in the last drive of the game?!