Philadelphia Eagles: Has Andy Reid Fatigue Given Special Teams a Pass?

Ron Pasceri@@RonPasceriCorrespondent IIDecember 22, 2011

This play was a sign of things to come.
This play was a sign of things to come.

The Eagles play in Philadelphia. Usually, if something isn’t performing well, it is harped on until things change. In an epically disappointing season though, something seems to have slipped through the cracks.

The defensive failures have been well chronicled. Offensive woes are never tolerated. The head coach and quarterback are always on the chopping block. For some reason, special teams have gone almost unnoticed.

Maybe it’s the frequency of blown leads by the defense, or the absurd amount of turnovers by the offense, but they haven’t been all that has ailed this team this season.

It hasn’t been all bad on special teams. As far as kick- and punt-coverage units go, they have been as good as they have ever been.

Opponents are only gaining 22.4 yards per kickoff return, ninth-best in the NFL. They haven’t allowed a touchdown or even a return longer than 50 yards. In fact, they have allowed returns of 30 yards or more just seven times in 64 kickoffs.

On punt returns, they rank fifth in the league, giving up just 6.4 yards per return. They haven’t given up a touchdown here either, and the longest return has been just 25 yards.

Their rookie kicker had big shoes to fill in David Akers, but Alex Henery has hit 87.0 percent of his field goals. His long is only 47 yards, but one of his three misses was a 63-yarder to close a half. He hasn’t missed since Week 4.

That is pretty much the end of the good news. As good as their coverage has been, their returning has been abysmal.

The Eagles rank No. 29 in both kickoff and punt returning. They average 21.4 yards on kickoff returns and just 6.2 yards on punt returns.

On 65 kickoff returns, the Eagles have only advanced the ball past the 30-yard line six times, two of which were on penalties for kicks out of bounds. Their longest return is just 33 yards, worst in the NFL.

Their outstanding kick and punt coverage basically cancels out their poor returning, but in the last two weeks they have a fumbled punt, a muffed punt, a fumbled kickoff return and a punt blocked.

They were fortunate to win both games, but they can’t continue to put the defense in bad positions. Also, these four miscues aren’t the only times special teams has reared its ugly head.

That infamous Week 4 loss to the 49ers? In a 24-23 game, the Eagles missed two field goals from inside 40 yards.

The 30-24 loss to the Bears? A DeSean Jackson fumble on a punt return gave Chicago the ball at the Eagles’ 9-yard line. They scored a touchdown three plays later.

The special teams are a major concern right now. They can get away with not making big plays, but they can’t keep making huge mistakes.

If the Eagles are going to make the playoffs, they have to play great football. The offense has come around, and it looks like the defense has too.

As good as the Eagles have looked in the last two weeks, special teams needs to follow suit, or it will have been all for naught.