The Eagles boasted the number one special teams unit in the NFL in 2014, in large part thanks to Dave Fipp, their incredible special teams coach that the team grabbed from the Miami Dolphins in 2013, where he was equally successful. Last year they had seven touchdowns on special teams, an incredible number, and was ranked the top unit by most rankings around the country. The special teams group this year had a bit of a slow start and wasn’t quite as flashy as it was last year, but it still finished #6 according to Football Outsiders and #5 according to the Dallas Morning News, which does an annual rankings of all NFL special teams’ units. Not bad at all.
This is one aspect of the Eagles that they can actually be proud of, and it’s excellent to see that Fipp will be returning in 2016 under Doug Pederson. Darren Sproles made his second straight Pro Bowl this year as a punt returner, coming in second in the league in punt return average (11.7 yards per return), trailing only Danny Amendola, the former Eagles player. Sproles was also third in the league in total returns and was the only player with two punt returns for touchdowns. As usual, his contributions on special teams were imperative to their success as a team, especially with the offense and defense struggling like they did at times.
As the main kick returner, Josh Huff came in 12th in the league in both total kick return yardage and average yards per return after sharing the duties with Chris Polk last year. However, his average was down significantly between the two years, dropping from 29.6 to 23.7 between the two years. This may be attributed to a larger sample size in 2015, but either way, Huff wasn’t exactly tearing it up on returns.
Cody Parkey had a sensational 2014 campaign, then only made it through a couple games before getting hurt and landing on injured reserve. Parkey looked a little shaky in preseason, but was 3/4 in field goals and 7/7 in extra points in the three games he played. They signed Caleb Sturgis for the rest of the season and he was about average, making 18/22 field goals and 35/37 extra points. They didn’t attempt many field goals in general, but he kept his percentage relatively high. Two of his misses were in the 50+ yard range, but the other two were between 30-39 yards, a range that should be an almost guarantee for a kicker.
Donnie Jones, returning as the team’s punter in 2015, had to punt 86 times, the sixth highest in the league. He finished with the seventh highest average (47.0 yards per punt) in the league and sixth highest in net yards (41.6). He also finished ninth in punts inside the 20 and yielded the third lowest yards per return at just 5.1, which is more of a compliment to the rest of the special teams. Jones did, however, have two punts blocked, the most in the league this year.
Team Rankings estimates that Trey Burton led the team in special teams tackles at 13, putting together his second straight great performance on the squad. Chris Maragos was in second with nine and Seyi Ajirotutu was in third with eight.
Having a great special teams sometimes is under-appreciated, but having a bad special teams unit is just brutal and can cripple a team. The fact that the Eagles have special teams figured out with both a great coach and great personnel is a big positive moving forward, as it means that’s just one less thing they have to worry about.
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