Not So Special

Posted: December 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 80 Comments »

I was ecstatic when the Eagles hired Bobby April a couple years back.  The STs play had been erratic since John Harbaugh gave up the post to become a positional assistant with the defense.  April was a great STs coach and I expected him to put together a top flight unit, the kind that Harbaugh had given us for almost a decade.

Oops.

STs were up and down last year.  By the end of the season, they were pretty good.  Alex Henery was on a roll.  Keenan Clayton, Casey Matthews, and Akeem Jordan were very good in coverage.  Chas Henry did his best punting late in the year.  There was reason for optimism.

2012 has basically been a disaster.

* Brandon Boykin fumbled a KOR, ironically on his longest return of the season (44 yds).

* Damaris Johnson fumbled a PR and muffed a punt.  Both led to TDs.

* The blocking on returns has been terrible.

* Roscoe Parrish had PRs of 18 and 30 yards in the Tampa game.

* KO coverage was nearly disastrous vs the Giants…6-217 (36.2 per KOR).

* Blocked punt vs Cincy.

* False start vs Tampa that moved back FG attempt, led to miss.

* Damaris Johnson had the bad habit of fielding punts too deep early in the year.  This cost the team a FG in the Ravens game.

* Ravens ran a fake punt that would have worked, but the runner tripped.

* Ravens returned a KO out near midfield to jump start a TD drive.

* DET’s Stefan Logan returned a punt 48 yards to set up a FG early in the game (we lost the game in OT).

* Fletcher Cox was thrown out of the Lions game for punching a player on extra point attempt (not really April’s fault, but part of a pattern of very undisciplined play).

* Multiple games where a blocker was not on the field for a punt, PK, or FG.  This was a variety of players, offense and defense.  Again…there is a pattern of undisciplined play.  First job for a coach is to get the right people on the field and get them lined up correctly.

* Allowed a PR for TD in the Dallas game that broke things wide open.  There were uncalled blocks in the back, but you still shouldn’t give up a TD.

* Alex Henery missed an extra point vs Dallas.

* Alex Henery missed a short FG vs Tampa.  Appeared to be a problem with the hold that affected the kick.

* Failed to recover onside kicks.

STs has not been a strength.  It has been a source of frustration and bad play.  I didn’t even go through all the penalties that we’ve racked up on STs.  Those are the kind of hidden yards that can plague a mistake-prone team like the Eagles.

As bad as this is, the failure to develop players is equally damning.  Alex Henery has done well, but as I’ve written a few times…Henery was the best college kicker I’ve ever seen.  This isn’t like April took some late round prospect and turned him into a weapon.

None of the return guys has done well under April.  Damaris has shown flashes, but nothing special.

The only cover guy who has thrived is Colt Anderson.  He does have Pro Bowl potential.

It would be one thing if April was given no resources.  He’s got talent to work with.  It would be one thing if part of the STs were exceptional and the other areas deficient.  There is literally nothing to be happy about.

I have no idea what happened.  April was the STs coach of the year in 2004 and 2008.  This isn’t a guy who was in over his head.  Unfortunately his ideas didn’t work well.  Some have suggested that the new blocking rules really affected him.  That is certainly possible, but doesn’t explain the other deficiencies.

After seeing such a good coach as April struggle…I don’t know what to expect in the future.  This experience will certainly curb my enthusiasm on hiring a big name STs coach and expecting great results.

If I tried to defend April at all…the best I could do is to say that the Eagles have been a soft team the last two years.  That isn’t because of April and it has hurt him.  The flip side is that the right STs coach should be able to help develop young LBs and DBs and get them to play more physically.

* * * * *

The Giants are losing.  Coughlin is making questionable decisions and Eli is throwing picks.  Life is good.

The Skins were losing.  They just took the lead.  Can’t lose with this game.  If they win, we can cheer for a bogus QB controversy.  If they lose, well that’s just fun to see.

Go Steelers.

* * * * *

I’ll post my DGR on Monday morning.  I did a write-up for PE.com.

_


  • ACViking

    Re: Colts offensive scheme

    I’m watching the Colts at Houston.

    The Colts O-line is a collection of journeymen — save for 2011 1st-Rd pick Anthony Costanzo (taken 2 spots ahead of Danny Watkins).

    The average weight of the Colts starters today (and they’re missing starting center Sampson Satele and RT Winston Justice) is just over 317 pounds.

    The running scheme reminds me of what the Eagles did during the Juan Castillo years — lots of straight-ahead, quick hitting plays with the Colts lineman using their big bodies to lean on the Texans.

    Colts RB Vic Ballard is over 100 yards in the 3rd Q.

    No stretch plays. Only a few off-tackle plays. Essentially, quick hitting power runs — which seems to make sense given the (i) injuries, (ii) size of the O-linemen, and (iii) the speed and quickness of the Texans defense.

    Bruce Arians (as every reader of this blog knows) is the Colts OC. It looks like the same kind of offense he ran with the Steelers.

    Arians is 60 years old, maybe past his window for being a HC. But Marv Levy was 61 when he took over as HC of the Bills in 1986.

    And Arians is getting a heck of a lot of HC experience as the Colts interim HC until Chuck Pagano comes back.

    Anyway, I like what the Colts are doing on offense in the running game

    • TommyLawlor

      I’ll talk about Arians in a post.

      Short version…very good job in 2012. Good background. I’m hesitant because history is littered with interim coaches who had a hot stretch and then failed when given the top job. See Jason Garrett for a recent example. Happens all the time in college.

      • ACViking

        T-Law:

        Look no further than the Eagles own Ed Khuyhat — who took over for the fired Jerry Williams 2 game into the 1971 season, then leading the Eagles to a 6-5-1 record behind QB Pete Liske, WRs Harold Jackson and Ben Hawkins, MLB Tim Rossevich and FS Bill Bradley.

        But then in ’72 — insisting on short hair and no facial hair — the Birds went 2-11-1 . . . and he was gone.

        Great point.

    • austinfan

      Houston’s defense is in disarray due to injuries, especially at LB.

      Eagles were a pretty bad running team most years with Juan as OL coach, they depended on draws for a lot of yardage, they ran better last year than I can remember. When they ran well, it was because they had Welbourn and Mayberry at OG in 2002, and Herremans and Andrews in 2006, and a healthy Jon Runyan both years (Tra never run blocked much better than Dunlap, “second level, I can’t run that far”).

      Of course, replace Peters with Dunlap, Kelce with Reynolds, Herremans with Kelly and your run game will suffer.

      It may be that it’s easier to plug and play in certain schemes, but don’t read too much into this game.

  • http://twitter.com/daniel_suraci Daniel

    When I saw the title of this post, I thought it was going to be about the Giants game going on right now.

    • TommyLawlor

      Sure would fit.

  • Capogambino

    I remember the ST history a bit differently. The STs were actually pretty good under Dashier if you go by the FO stats and rankings, generally in the top half of the league in all categories. Sure, we had boring return men who were the fair catch kings, but we also had solid kickers, good coverage, and few fumbles. When they brought in April, nostrums about fixing things that aren’t broken were going through my head. Has April had a single good STs year for the Eagles?

    • TommyLawlor

      Daisher had some success. Players hated him though. Legit hate. Reid felt he had to make a change. Ted could coach, but was too much of a taskmaster. You can’t continually scream at players. Must be a balance of screaming and other stuff.

      • Capogambino

        Thanks for the insight, I had never heard anything about Dashier being disliked. Where do you get these great nuggets? You definitely help make sense of a the perplexing world of shadows on the locker room wall we call th NFL.

        • TommyLawlor

          I get info from a variety of sources and share what I can.

  • T_S_O_P

    Tommy, how does AP come back from such a devastating knee injury at the end of the last season, miss all of the preseason and then turn in his best ever rushing season? I’ve said this before about other things that have been happening this season, but that is bonkers. And not just bonkers, but bonkers bonkers! How would he have been if he’d of been 100 %?

    • TommyLawlor

      He is a freak and I mean that in the absolute best possible sense of the word. His body isn’t natural…in a good way (the opposite of me and Antonio Dixon).

      • T_S_O_P

        Absolute freak. Anyone you bet that he would have had a career year has just raped Vegas.

    • austinfan

      ACL surgery is becoming more and more routine, and the recovery times seem to have accelerated. However, still pretty amazing.

      • DanJ3645

        having read a couple of interviews AP gave he talks about recognising the need to improve his technique and understanding of the game, to compensate for any loss of speed and agility he was going to suffer.
        This just highlights his drive to be a great football player

  • A_T_G

    Has the special teams been the most consistently bad unit the past few years? It feels that way to me. The offense and defense each had their runs of good play, but special teams didn’t have any good runs that I can remember.

    • ACViking

      comment deleted.

  • ACViking

    Re: The Redskins

    Very depressing watching that crew kick the crap out of the Browns in Cleveland behind rookie Kirk Cousins.

    How bad are the Eagles?
    __________

    T-Law . . .

    My recollection is you liked Cousins coming out of MSU, particularly his leadership.

    • TommyLawlor

      I thought the talk of Cousins as a late 1st/early 2nd was crazy, but I did like him a bit later. Liked him more than Foles. Cousins does have great intangibles. Incredibly mature and focused for a kid.

      Let’s see how he does vs Bowlesmania to really judge him.

  • T_S_O_P

    Just one thought on April and it could be inaccurate, he seems to be a players coach, a nice guy. Maybe his personality is too closely aligned to Reid whereas in the pass he has worked under hard asses? That is the conjecture bit on my part as I don’t really know his previous coaches.

    One thing that April isn’t responsible for is the decline our STs for the years preceding him. I think offensive tinker toys have taken final roster spots rather than ST players. Eually, the constant turnover at linebacker during this period. I think ’05 was the last time we were delivered a victory on the back of STs, the miracle in the meadowlands 2 apart and not countered. Also, all phases of our teams have been undisciplined in recent years, I wonder if there is a correlation between that and ST play?

    • TommyLawlor

      We are undisciplined. And soft. That shows up on STs.

      Won’t fully agree on the tinker toys part. If anything, it is the LBs who have really hurt April.

      • T_S_O_P

        It was a comment further than April. remember having GLEW as a PR?

        • TommyLawlor

          That’s a long, weird discussion. Let’s save that type thing for those months when there is nothing to talk about.

  • bdbd20

    Tommy,

    I never thought I’d really be asking this, but if Flacco is available (assuming he gets the franchise tag and the Ravens make it known that he is on the market), would you take a chance on him? Maybe for a 1 and a 3?

    • TommyLawlor

      Probably not. Would depend on the new coaching staff and if they had some crazy love for him.

    • austinfan

      No. He’s been in the league too long, what you see is what you’ll get, a strong armed erratic QB with limited field vision. They gave him a lot of talent to work with, rebuilt the OL, receivers like Boldin and Smith, a RB like Rice, and he’s still the same erratic QB he’s always been. Has never averaged close to 8 YPA ,his 3rd season was his best year and he never built on it. Wins a lot of games because of the Raven defense, this year, hasn’t been able to carry the team as the defense eroded.

      So giving up a 1st and 3rd and paying a whole lot of money for a marginal top 10 QB seems a high price. He’s a solid QB, but not special.

  • ACViking

    Re: Kirk Cousins

    T-Law. T-Law. Anything? Anything?

    What the hell’s going on in D.C.?

    • TommyLawlor

      He’s using PEDs. And Cleveland only had 10 guys out there on defense. And he got all the calls.

      I’ll think of some more later.

      • ACViking

        Capital ideas!

    • eagles2zc

      I hate to say it, but maybe the 9 mil./year Synder is spending on Shanahan is worth it

      • austinfan

        Never get excited by a single season.
        Or look at Morris in TB.

        • eagles2zc

          I’m not going to defend the coach of a division rival too much, but now that he’s got his QB, watch out

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=565087931 Jeppe Elmelund van Ee

    Tommy, I’ve got a quick draft question:

    If we sit in the top 5-8, knowing the draft aren’t packed with top tier talent like in the previous few years, is there a chance that we could move back a little? for instance, if Joeckel is on the board, I’ve been wondering wether moving back, maybe getting a 2nd in return, and then pick his body on the right side, Matthews. My thinking is that, like Tyron Smith, he is stuck on RT because of a stud LT Kalil/Joeckel, but might be just as good.

    I’m thinking that the new CBA is a positive for movement in the top of the draft, but the lack of top tier talent is a negative…

    • TommyLawlor

      Trading back is always possible. There are some guys in the 10-15 range who I might like a lot. OLB/DE Dion Jordan. OT Fisher. Maybe one of the Safeties ends up being worth that pick.

      We need to see how things play out, but moving back might end up making sense.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BoyboyACW Mike Roman

    Tommy,

    I know how much you love Sal Pal so I thought I’d bring this up….

    As of a few weeks ago, he was huge on the Bruce Arians bandwagon. I’m skeptical of Sal (and national guys in general) so I took it upon myself to research it a little more. When I saw his accomplishments, I really felt that he’s as good as anyone:

    Worked with Manning, Rothliesberger and Luck
    Coached every offensive position at some point in his career
    Coached on Super Bowl winning staff w/ Steelers (winning organization)
    Interim with the Colts this year…
    You really don’t know with any assistant coach, but he seems as qualified as anyone. I get nervous with college coaches more so than assistant coaches. The fact is, no matter who the Eagles choose, it’s not a sure thing.

  • P_P_K

    Why has April been so relatively immune to criticism? Special teams has been a disaster. Juan was under the microscope from day 1, in large part due to the radical nature of his promotion, but he was still fired based on a neagtive evaluation. Washburn couldn’t produce and he was also canned. Even the players found a hot seat under them; just ask Babin, all-pro one year and gone the next. Why have there been no calls for Bobby’s head? Is there something going on behind closed doors that doesn’t make it’s way to us?

    • eagles2zc

      Living on reputation maybe?

    • Iskar36

      I think this season there has been criticism of April, but I understand what you are saying. I think part of that is the lack of another option (something that seems to be an unfortunate trend on this team). If you fire April, is there anyone you trust to take over that unit right now?

    • TommyLawlor

      April has been under tremendous criticism in the last month or so and I’ve seen him getting lots of negative press all year.

      I think we all kept waiting for things to click. He’s a proven coach. He had some young pieces to work with. We just knew it would take off in Week 4 or 6 or 8. Never wasn’t an option. It became reality, though.

    • Eagles_Fan_in_San_Fran

      Everything else has been a total disaster as well, so ST stays far down the list, especially since Henery has been so good.

  • GermanEagle

    I’d rather give up 2 1st round picks for Kaepernik than a 1st and 3rd for Flacco!

  • http://twitter.com/MFlicker Mike Flick

    I think Howie deserves some of the blame for this.

    Since he has been in charge, we have had the ‘youngest team’ label, or close to it. And have dropped more experienced players for rookies who may develop into something in offense or defense.

    On the final cut down day last year we had a WR with good special teams ability, but was a vet. (forget name was it Washington?) and we cut him for a chad hall. And the first few weeks of teams were lacking veteran leadership badly.

    Sometimes being young is great for developing guys, but the specials suffer for it.
    —-

    Also it seems like Boykin runs to the wrong spots every time. It looks like there is something there in the blocking but Brandon runs into a crowd and misses any opportunity.
    ——-
    The whole teams needs to focus on how to carry the ball. Including our D-line.

    • DanJ3645

      Given that Howie should be assembling the squad of players to Big Red’s vision is Howie’s fault or AR’s?

      • http://twitter.com/MFlicker Mike Flick

        Reid has a part, no doubt. And some of the internal preferences between the GM and coach are not always clear to those on the outside.

        But ever since Howie took over, our roster has gotten younger. He seems to focus on youth. His focus seems to be on filling the bottom of the roster with young guys who could develop instead of being peppered with veterans who have some experience.

        This shows up on Special Teams, and when a starter goes down.

        Our drafts have netted more players than anyone. Plus we go hard on rookie FAs. This helps the cap out, they are cheaper and allows us to spend more money on the top end guys.

        But the negative is two fold. 1) We got a lot more young guys who have no previous experience and may not play well when they get on the field. At least there is a learning curve and we keep fighting through that learning curve.
        2) It seems like we got a lot of ex-players now playing for other teams. Not sure the numbers but seeing Teo play for Tampa, Amendola playing for the Rams, it seems like there are a lot of other teams getting our developed players.

        I see this constant youth movement going on and Howie has a lot to do with it.

        • austinfan

          Except that Howie also found our best ST cover guy on the waiver wire, Colt Anderson, who was never projected to be a starter. Cooper developed into a solid ST contributor, Jordan was retained b/c of his ST skills, and so on. Marsh is becoming a solid cover guy this year.

          If there is one area where he may have misjudged, it is the willingness of big program LBs like Rolle, Matthews and Chaney to do the dirty work on STs, though Clayton had improved in that area, fast backup LBs and safeties are the key to your coverage teams, backup OL, FBs and TEs to the blocking on return teams.

          Very few teams have more than 3 or 4 veterans who are kept just to play STs.

          • http://twitter.com/MFlicker Mike Flick

            Colt Anderson is the success story. Our ‘Teams really sucked before he was playing.

            But we suffered through the growing pains of guys like Cooper instead of getting a guy who could do it. We suffered through Brian Rolle learning on the job, then cut him. I am not a student of coverage teams or anything but I see Matthews looking bad on coverage. We could find a LB that can play that role better, but finding out and on the job training has hurt us.

    • Anders

      Thats on AR imo as he is in charge of everything when it comes to the roster. Howie just gives him the players and its up to AR and the coaches to develop them.
      Howie have done everything you can ask of him in terms of getting the players and making sure their contracts wont hurt the team for the future.

  • ACViking

    Re: Eagles’ Youth

    The 4-10 Eagles have 27 rookies and 1st year players on the roster.

    Other teams . . .

    The 9-5 Ravens have 28 rookies and 1st year players.

    The 10-4 Packers have 27 rookies and 1st year players.

    The 8-6 Redskins’ roster has 25 rookies and 1st year players.

    The 11-3 Broncos have 23 rookies and 1st year players.

    The 12-2 Texas, 10-4 Patriots, and 8-6 Giants each has 22 rookies and 1st year players.

    The 12-2 Falcons have 21 rookies and 1st year players.
    ____________

    I’ll leave it to others to explain these teams’ respective records.

    • Anders

      How many are starters on those teams or play there entire 2nd team offense? Its not an excuse for the bad bad secondary play or the gazillion fumbles, but how good would the Pats be if they lost their whole OL, top RB, top TE and top WR (im not going to bring on the lose of Vick as there havnt been a difference betwen Vick and Foles?)

      • http://twitter.com/Dan_Koller Dan Koller

        I’m inclined to agree, but I haven’t looked throughout the roster. I think though that there is definitely a difference in how prepared rookies are coming out of school now to how prepared they were in years past.

      • ACViking

        I don’t disagree with any of your points.

        I’m just putting the numbers out there. (I may add 2nd & 3rd year numbers, plus who’s starting, too.)

        Seems to me, though, regardless of how many rookies are starting or how bad the O-line is . . . if you have a great QB, you win in the NFL.

        • Anders

          Agree. I think the Skins and the Colts are the best example of this.

        • http://twitter.com/MFlicker Mike Flick

          The point of this discussion is special teams. No one is debating that having Tom Brady instead of Foles would make a difference.

          But I have been thinking this for a while, we tend to be younger than most teams (We have been in the top 5 youngest teams for a while). A lot of that is the back half of the roster and ever since we have been doing that our special teams have sucked. I think it is related.

      • 47_Ronin

        The Patriots have actually have had to deal with the loss of starters on the OL
        http://m.espn.go.com/general/blogs/blogpost?blogname=bostonnew-england-patriots&id=4734165&city=boston

    • http://twitter.com/MFlicker Mike Flick

      Look at Houston:

      They have Quinton Demps playing on the teams, which we gave up on. Bradie James is playing after being too old for Dallas. They only have 5 on the d-line while we have 11. They have 16 guys with 7 years or more in the league, while we have 11. I count 8 rookies on the 53.

      NE always uses a lot of recycled veterans. I only count 10 rookies on their 53 man roster.

      Atl has 9 on their 53. They have 13 guys that are 8th year or later. We have 8. They are a much older team.

  • ACViking

    RE: Tommy Lawlor . . . Scout extraordinaire

    Here’s some of what T-Law wrote before the 2012 draft about:

    1. Nick Foles — “A big issue with Nick Foles is his arm strength. In reviewing a few games I didn’t see him throw one ball over 20 yards that looked like it had good velocity or a tight spiral on it. That’s not a good sign. His deep ball floats terribly and wobbles like a duck at times, making him extremely interception prone. Even when he’s on the run outside of the pocket, he’ll hit short routes very well, but if he has to throw the ball even 15 yards downfield – he’s always behind his receiver and low. Foles just doesn’t have great arm strength. In fact, I believe he shows a mediocre arm.”
    (Link: http://2011.scoutsnotebook.com/nick-foles/)

    2. Kirk Cousins — ”

    Cousins throws the ball pretty well. Accurate passer. There are some plays where he’ll wow you with a throw over the middle into a tight window. You just wish he did that consistently. Footwork is a big issue. Doesn’t always set and stride into his throws. Sometimes will fall away as he’s releasing the ball. That can lead to high/erratic passes. Had a lot of success with crossing routes at MSU. Puts good touch on his short throws. Strong arm. Able to make all the throws. Good deep ball passer. . . .

    I think he should be a 4th round pick [which is exactly where the Redskins took Cousins], but most likely he’ll go in the 2nd or 3rd round. I think using a 2nd round pick on Cousins is crazy. Game tape doesn’t show that level of talent or production. He is improved now, but that’s still early for a guy with his track record.
    (Link: http://2011.scoutsnotebook.com/kirk-cousins/

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