In a season where the Eagles mostly have heard nothing but cheers, that isn’t the case with the special teams.
The Eagles’ special teams have been torched several times this season. On a team with outstanding offensive and defensive units, the contrast was jarring.
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.
We’ve criticized Clay several times this season, for good reason. Today, we’re pleased to sing his praises after his squads played so well in the 35-10 victory over Tennessee.
- “It was probably our best game all-around, special teams-wise, and we just talk about trying to be consistent,” Clay said.
- “You can always do it one time. Now we’ve got to do it four consecutive times to help this team in our run at the end of the year.”
IMPROVED KICKOFF COVERAGE
The Eagles’ kickoff coverage was abused by the Packers two weeks ago, giving up returns of 38, 52 and 53 yards.
- “It’s just one of those things where this team, this group out here, they’re very prideful,” Clay said.
- “Anytime you put a performance that we talked about about Green Bay, no one is going to be happy about that, but they came in … ready to be a contributing factor for this.”
Kickoff returns were shut down against the Titans. On six kickoffs, three were touchbacks. The three returns went to the Titans’ 23, 22 and 23-yard lines. Five punts averaged 43 yards per kick. The Eagles allowed a 19-yard return in the fourth quarter with the game’s outcome not in question.
Linebacker Christian Elliss, called up from the practice squad to play his second NFL game and first this season, had two special teams tackles. Shaun Bradley made two tackles. Nakobe Dean saw playing time on defense and also made one special teams tackle.
- “Being on the practice squad you can get kind of lost in the shuffle, you may not take it seriously in terms of I probably won’t get called up,” Clay said.
- “But Christian comes in every day and he gives maximum effort, regardless of what he’s doing, whether that’s scout team, whether that’s giving us a rush on punt, and when his number was called, it wasn’t anything changed for his process.
- “He came in the same way he did, and he was ready to perform out there, and just some added boost, some big hits, some collisions out there, some good blocks on the punt return.”
Rookie Britain Covey returned six punts for 105 yards, a 17.5 average. Before Sunday, he averaged 6.8 yards on 19 returns.
He had three returns of 20-plus yards, tying for most in a game since the Lions’ Eddie Drummond in 2004.
Covey had more time to roam as Titans punter Ryan Stonehouse’s kicks were line drives rather than majestic high kicks.
- “If you’re going to get long kicks at short hang time, you may have an opportunity more than high hang times and shorter punts,” Clay said.
- “But it all starts with the guys on the outside with Andre [Chachere] and Zech [McPhearson]. When you put them in a one-on-one situation with some gunners and stopping them or slowing them down at least to give Covey some extra room. It always starts with them.
- “Then the interior, can we get off on the ball, make it look like a rush and hold these guys up and finish up down the field to give Covey an avenue to do what he does and make one miss and get outside, show off some speed right there.
- “So, it was a group effort, but it’s kudos to Covey, as well.”
THE NEXT STEPS
With the playoffs on the horizon, the Eagles need special teams to not be a liability. Whether it’s personnel or scheme, they want this kind of performance moving forward.
- “My approach, I tried to keep a very steady, similar approach week in and week out,” Clay said.
- “So I just try to be the same person I am day in and day out, and it’s just one of those things where the energy that we have through practice, throughout the game was evident.
- “There were some big collisions out there and everyone felt that, and that’s the sole talking point throughout the week was just energy, just energy and passion, and everything else will take care of itself.
- “Fortunately for us, it happened on Sunday.”
MADDOX RETURNS TO PRACTICE
The Eagles opened the 21-day practice window for starting nickel back Avonte Maddox on Wednesday. He had been on injured reserve since Nov. 14 with a hamstring injury. He is eligible to play at anytime.
Maddox has one interception and 27 tackles this season.