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Spadaro: Eagles special teams face big test vs. Dallas Cowboys

Michael Clay
Michael Clay

An early indication of just how impactful the Dallas Cowboys' special teams would be in this 2023 season happened in the opening game against the Giants when Dallas blocked a field goal attempt and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown.

Talk about setting a tone.

Since then, the Cowboys have been a dominating third phase in all four sectors of the kicking game. Their placekicker, Brandon Aubrey, missed his opening point-after kick, but since then has hit on 17 PATs and all 18 of his field goal tries, including 3-of-3 from 50-plus yards (his long is 58 yards). Punter Bryan Anger is fourth in the NFL in gross punting average (51 yards per punt) and is third in net punting average (45.1 yards). Dallas blocked a punt last week in its win over the Rams, its second blocked kick of 2023. KaVontae Turpin is one of the game's most dangerous return men, as he's forced teams to kick away from him. He's also an X-factor on offense, so keep an eye on him there.

"He's as dynamic as I've seen in a long time," Eagles Special Teams Coordinator Michael Clay said.

You get the idea: The Eagles have a great challenge on Sunday in this huge NFC East game (4:25 PM, Lincoln Financial Field, FOX).

"They help their offense and defense out with a short field with their return in Turpin," Clay said on Tuesday at his weekly press conference at the NovaCare Complex. "They do a great job on their punt rushes with Dorrance Armstrong and Sam Williams out there ... Bryan Anger is doing a great job in flipping the field.

"Dallas has done a great job in all four phases on special teams. We have our work cut out."

As we spend the whole week proclaiming "keys to winning this game," the special teams cannot be overlooked. The Eagles have been very good as well, with Jake Elliott among the best placekickers in the game, nailing 18 of 20 field goals – including 5 of 6 from 50-plus yards – and 22 of 23 PATs. Braden Mann is finding his stride, averaging 46.3 gross yards per punt and 40.2 net yards per punt. Britain Covey is second in the NFL in punt return average at 14.7 yards per attempt. The Eagles only have five kickoff returns this season, but one of them is a 38-yarder from Boston Scott. The coverage units have been good, and recovered a fumble on a punt return in the Minnesota game. In fact, according to the analytics from FTN Fantasy, the Eagles rank No. 1 in special teams DVOA, while Dallas is sixth.

Hidden yardage, a statistic many don't discuss, and "sudden impact" plays that can happen on special teams, will be huge in this game.

"They push the envelope on trying to extend possessions, trying to get an extra possession," Clay said. "We've got to be really keyed in. We have a really big challenge ahead of us. It's a division rival. We'll get these guys in tomorrow raring to go and have a good opportunity that we've been playing some good ball and we've got to keep it going."

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