In the big picture of 11 games this season, the Eagles have been solid on kickoff coverage. But they had breakdowns on Sunday night against Green Bay and Special Teams Coordinator Michael Clay discussed the situation on Tuesday at his weekly media conference. Philadelphia's defensive starting position after kickoffs this season is the 25.6-yard line, just off the NFL average of the 25.1-yard line and fewer than 4 yards behind Houston, which ranks No. 1 in the league with its defense starting at the 22-yard line.
"Giving up three explosive kickoff returns on your kickoff coverage is nothing to be proud about. It's unacceptable, first of all, for myself as a special teams coordinator for the kickoff coverage," Clay said. "But, again, there have been some good things all around this season. In terms of that game, just some opportunities to make a tackle to probably save it at the 25-, 28-yard line where we missed out on. Have to get better getting off blocks, in terms of handling our leverage in those situations. The one coming out of the half they out-leveraged us and it bounced out to the field. Again, just one of those little things, those details that we talk about throughout the week in terms of this is a dangerous kickoff returner. We have to be able to have our leverage, our running lanes, and be able to get off blocks and just play football and be violent at the point the attack. Kind of slipped out on those ones.
"It starts with myself as a coordinator to get these guys going in terms of that. Not saying that they haven't been going all year. They've been doing a great job in terms of their effort, the details, and everything. Three explosive kickoff returns doesn't help anybody, and I've been in this league long enough to know that without the defense that we had, and they saved us a few times, that's going to come back and bite you. Especially late in the season here in the Northeast, you're going to have to cover some kicks. So, again, very fortunate that it didn't really cost us in terms of the game where it put the defense in a bind, but they stepped up on those in terms of those sudden changes. Again, for myself, we have to get this thing going in terms of knowing that we are going to have to cover some kicks against some really good kickoff returners coming forward."
Coverage, in general, has been solid for the special teams in this 10-1 start. The punt coverage team has allowed an average of 7.4 yards per return, with a long punt return of only 17 yards. While the Eagles' return game has yet to bust a big one, there has been incremental improvement.
With a good Tennessee special teams group coming to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, Clay and his units have a lot of work to do. He plans to attack the situation when the players return to the practice field on Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex.
"I have this written on my board, 'Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,' so I don't want to go into the same thing where it's status quo like alright, it was just a one-game thing," Clay said. "No, we're going to find ways to get better in the drills that we have a lot of times right there to probably clean up some things and get ready for that. So, again, the drill work that we can do I think is going to help us going forward. You always want to cover it up because, again, in the NFL everyone is going to test you until you can prove you can stop it. So, they're going to test our kickoff return unit until we can stop them, which I know these guys can. We have been able to stop some good returners right there.
"Again, doing the drills to make ourselves better is always on the table, and I think we'll get better as we get going."