Philadelphia Eagles: Grading Special Teams Players & Coaching Staff for 2013
The Philadelphia Eagles had their ups and downs in the 2013 season, but the end result was a 10-6 record and division title. That’s pretty good considering most experts expected Chip Kelly’s offense to produce in spurts and the defense to stumble its way to maybe six wins at best.
The special teams units had their moments this year, particularly the work of free-agent punting acquisition Donnie Jones, who performed magnificently down the stretch. But the coverage units and kicking game were subpar, and Philadelphia will need to address that in the offseason.
The grades for this article won’t reflect the playoff loss, but it will address how the special teams players and key coaches performed in the regular season. Here are links for the first part (offense) and the second part (defense).
Just ask 10 Philadelphia Eagles fans what they think of Alex Henery, and that will tell you all you need to know about the third-year kicker.
Henery regressed from a solid second season, making just 70 percent of his field goals between 40 and 49 yards after kicking 94 percent in his first two seasons. Henery doesn’t have NFL-caliber leg strength, having made just two 50-plus-yard field goals in his career, and he’s an awful 5-of-11 from 45-plus yards.
In 2013, Henery rated 27th among kickers with an average kickoff distance of just 64.7 yards. Pro Football Focus rated him (subscription required) as the 31st-overall kicker in the NFL, factoring in field goals, extra points and kickoffs. That’s pretty disappointing for a fourth-round pick.
The Philadelphia Eagles pulled off a gem of a free-agent signing when they grabbed punter Donnie Jones.
The former All-Pro posted one of his best years, constantly coming up big for the Eagles down the stretch. He was twice named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week, and he set a franchise record for punts inside the 20-yard line (33).
Damaris Johnson showed little explosiveness as a return man for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013.
His average kick return distance of 25.9 actually rated 12th-best among returners with as many returns (17) as he had. But his long was just 33 yards, and he was never a threat to run one back all the way. An upgrade could be afforded at this position.
As a punt returner, Johnson was just average, as well. He ran back 12 for 100 yards, an average of 8.3 yards per return. Those are just ordinary numbers.
Strictly as a punt returner, DeSean Jackson wasn’t quite the playmaker this year that he was back in his prime of 2008-2010.
He totaled just a 5.1-yard average on 14 returns, although he did have a punt return touchdown called back due to a penalty.
Not enough good things can be said about Jon Dorenbos.
He’s as good of a long snapper as you will find in this league. He’s quite literally a magician at his craft, and that’s why he’s signed to a long-term deal.
Chip Kelly pulled off a tremendous achievement in his rookie season as an NFL head coach. He took a 4-12 Philadelphia Eagles team to 10 wins and a division title, setting a franchise record in points scored and total yards gained.
Kelly’s QB prowess was demonstrated as he turned second-year player Nick Foles (a backup at the beginning of the season) into an elite player: Foles posted a ridiculous 27 touchdown passes to just two interceptions, and he even accounted for three scores on the ground.
Kelly’s inclination toward fitness training led to an Eagles team that was remarkably healthy. Other than Jeremy Maclin’s preseason ACL injury, Philadelphia didn’t miss a beat in terms of health. The entire offensive line started all five players for all 16 games.
Perhaps Kelly’s finest decision was to bring aboard defensive coordinator Billy Davis, who turned a handful of average players into key pieces. The Eagles posted one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses over the second half of the season, at one point allowing 21 or fewer points for nine straight games.
Best yet, Kelly has the Eagles in position to contend for an NFC East title for years to come. The New York Giants and Washington Redskins have each taken steps back—beginning with the play of their once-franchise quarterbacks—and the defenses have really stumbled. And the Dallas Cowboys are an 8-8 team every year from now until the end of time.
It’s difficult to separate the work of Chip Kelly with that of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, but either way, both did an excellent job with the offense.
Shurmur helped to coax a breakout season out of Nick Foles, taking a quarterback with a limited skill set and turning him into a Pro Bowl talent. Running back LeSean McCoy turned in his finest year yet, as did playmaking receiver DeSean Jackson. And the offensive line was far and above the NFL’s best run-blocking unit.
Shurmur has had limited success in the past as coordinator of the St. Louis Rams offense and then as head coach of the Cleveland Browns (9-23 in two seasons). But his strong showing thus far with the Eagles may be his ticket to getting another NFL job as a head coach.
The work of Billy Davis this season was simply phenomenal, to say the least.
Davis entered 2013 with less-than-spectacular statistics as a previous defensive coordinator, and his time with the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t start off too well. In his first four games, the Eagles allowed 27, 33, 52 and 26 points. That’s an average of nearly 35 per game.
In the final 12 games, the Eagles allowed just 234 points. Take away a 48-point debacle to the Minnesota Vikings, and that’s just 16.9 per game. Most impressively, Davis did this without a Pro Bowl player on defense.
He coaxed a strong season out of second-year corner Brandon Boykin, who came up as a ballhawk at the biggest times. Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton transitioned well to the new 3-4 scheme, as did veteran Trent Cole to the 3-4 outside linebacker position. Cary Williams overachieved after a disappointing 2012 season with the Baltimore Ravens, and Mychal Kendricks became a bonafide playmaker as an inside linebacker.
If Davis can do this again in 2014, he’s going to be a head coach in this league in 2015.
The Philadelphia Eagles' special teams had an up-and-down season, as documented in the earlier slides.
Alex Henery showed he just doesn’t have the leg strength to be an NFL kicker, Damaris Johnson and DeSean Jackson were mediocre as return men and the coverage units were below average, especially late in the season.
The reliable play of punter Donnie Jones and long snapper Jon Dorenbos saves Fipp’s grade from being worse than it is.
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