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Special Teams Off To Great Start In 2017

Posted Sep 11, 2017

One play can make a difference. That’s what every player on Dave Fipp’s special teams unit understands. It’s what he preaches, it’s what the special teams live for.

Go make a difference. Turn the game around.

The Eagles did that on special teams to open the regular season at Washington, in so many ways. Hidden yardage? It tilted heavily in the Eagles’ favor. Game-changing plays? Clearly went to the Eagles.

“It’s a collective effort and we take a lot of pride every time we step on the field,” said the captain of the group, Chris Maragos, after the 30-17 victory. “Go out there and change the game. That’s our mentality.”

And that’s what the Eagles did in the win. It began on the first kickoff, when Maragos blew up the blocking wall and rookie Corey Clement made a bone-jarring tackle on return man Bashaud Breeland after a measly 14-yard gain. It continued after the defense held and Washington punter Tress Way, kicking away from dangerous return man Darren Sproles, shanked a punt that traveled only 30 yards and gave the Eagles possession at their 44-yard line. Three snaps later, the Eagles scored on a Carson Wentz pass to Nelson Agholor.

There was more, so much more. The Eagles recovered a fumbled punt by Washington’s Jamison Crowder and turned it into a touchdown. Placekicker Caleb Sturgis played through a painful hip flexor and knocked through three field goals from 50, 42, and 37 yards. Jones, late in the game, punted a ball that cover man Jaylen Watkins downed at Washington’s 1-yard line, flipping the field and eventually leading to an Eagles field goal.

The coverage teams limited a very dangerous Crowder to 3 total yards on two punt returns. Washington averaged only 19.3 yards on four kickoff returns.

Once again, the special teams were special.

“There are so many guys who contribute to it. They come to work every day and work hard and it shows up on Sunday,” Jones said after averaging a modest 42.5 gross yards on his four punts, with an extremely impressive 41.8-yard net. “A couple of plays can make a difference and we saw that. It takes all 11 players.

“On the one we downed at the 1-yard line, we got a great snap from Rick (Lovato, long snapper), perfect protection, and then Jaylen got down there to down the football. It was perfect. On that kick, as we lined up on the minus-49 (Eagles 49-yard line), I just told myself to swing away. The ball wasn’t traveling as far in warmups as I thought it would. The wind was kind of coming across the field. So I just went after it.”

That punt, with 6:51 remaining and the Eagles holding a tenuous lead at 19-17, was huge. On fourth-and-10 at the Eagles' 49-yard line, Jones hit a boomer that landed on the FedEx Field turf into the waiting arms of Watkins, who hustled down the field in coverage.

Jones had great hang time and control of the football and Watkins did his job.

And Washington was backed up at its 1-yard line. Philadelphia’s defense held on a three-and-out series to force a Redskins punt. The Eagles took control at their 47-yard line and drove into scoring range to set up Sturgis for a 37-yard field goal with 1:59 to go in the game.

Huge.

“It was a great punt. Donnie dropped it in a perfect area. I truly believe that that play was the biggest play in the game. We flipped the field, got them backed up and held, and we went down and kicked a field goal,” Watkins said. “Instead of them having a chance to win the game with a field goal, now they had to win with a touchdown.”

Fipp’s special teams unit, the best in the league in two of the last three years according to a comprehensive study done by The Dallas Morning News, is at it again. Making big plays. Turning the field around. Winning games. 

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