Coaches’ critique: Clay’s special teams weren’t very special

Posted on October 21, 2022

The Eagles were cruising, 20-0, over Dallas, with 1:47 left in the first half Sunday night. The Cowboys looked like they didn’t belong on the same field as the Eagles.

The biggest rivalry game for Philadelphia — in all four sports — and it looked like a blowout. Intensity was overflowing from the sellout crowd. For Eagles fans who felt like subjects of the Cowboys Empire for too many years of their lives, destroying Dallas was worth anything.

Beating the Cowboys just one day after the Phillies eliminated the defending champion Braves in the baseball playoffs just made it sweeter. Here was perpetual underdog Philly, vanquishing two rotten rivals over a three-day period.

Then, one play changed everything. One stinkin’ play.

The Cowboys’ KaVontae Turpin returned a kickoff 62 yards to the Eagles’ 41. Eagles rookie linebacker Kyron Johnson appeared to take an inside route, Turpin got the sideline and flew downfield.

The crowd was stunned, yelling in mostly four-letter words. Dallas kicked a field goal and the Eagles were lucky it wasn’t a touchdown.


While the Eagles’ offense and defense are among the league’s best, there is a noticeable drop off with the special teams. Punter Arryn Siposs is in the bottom third of punting distance and net punting, nearly 10 yards behind the leaders. 

Situational punting can stifle averages but this looks like an area in need of improvement for a team with understandably high aspirations.

In this week’s coaches’ critique — where we look at the performance of Eagles’ coaches, good and bad — we look at special teams coordinator Michael Clay and the kickoff return that could have flipped the entire game.

We highlighted Clay last week for his work getting rookie kicker/folk hero Cameron Dicker ready for the Arizona game.

Clay talked about what he saw on Turpin’s return:

  • “Just one of our players got out of position on one of them … It was just out of position against a very dangerous returner in Turpin.
  • “It’s one of those learning experiences where luckily it didn’t kill us in terms of the end product of the game. The defense did a great job of stopping them for three, so very fortunate for that.
  • “From a special teams standpoint, we can’t have any of that, giving up three points, especially the ebbs and flows of how that game was going. They weren’t really doing much in terms of their offense, in terms of field position, because we were helping out in that sense as well.
  • “So, it’s one of those things where you’re always grateful to have another opportunity to go back out there and correct it and everything, but it was just, Kyron, that first kickoff made a heck of a play. Nakobe [Dean] the second kickoff made a heck of a play.
  • “The third one they caught us being aggressive, got head up, and KaVontae coming out of TCU, he was one of the really good returners coming out of there and he had some stuff off the field. He stuck his foot in the ground, got outside of us, and he showed why he’s a dangerous returner.”


Eagles coach Nick Sirianni says he’s not worried about his special teams after his team beat Dallas, 26-17, to improve to 6-0. Sirianni can say that publicly, but he’s a coach who worries about everything. You can be sure there will be stronger emphasis on the special teams coming out of the bye week.

  • “My level of concern is low,” Sirianni said. “I think when you look at the stats of our punt and kickoff units now, obviously no one is pleased about the 62-yard return that set up three points for them. That can’t happen. We need to do a better job right there.
  • “We had some guys in position. We had one guy that was out of position, and it ended up costing us there. That can happen when you’re — again, the ultimate team game. One guy gets out of position, and it affects everybody else.
  • “Going into that game our coverage units were pretty good. I think we were fifth in … punt coverage. We were fifth in covering punts and now we’re 11th, so we had a little bit of a slip last game.
  • “I believe we were in the top 10 of covering kickoffs and now we’re 14th. So, we are 14 and 11th, middle of the pack right there on that.
  • “But we want to be better on those and not give up the play. But you’ve got to look at the total body of work. It’s never just one play, ever.”
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Chuck Bausman

Chuck Bausman is an Eagles writer for Chuck formerly was the Executive Sports Editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and the Executive Sports Editor of the Courier-Post in South Jersey. He learned how to cuss by watching Philly sports.

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