Eagles' tee party strategy

CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Kurt Coleman watches practice with defensive coach Bill Davis.
CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Kurt Coleman watches practice with defensive coach Bill Davis.
Posted: December 20, 2013

IKE REESE, the former Eagles Pro Bowl special-teamer and now the smarter and better-looking half of WIP's "Mike & Ike Show," was talking the other day about Chip Kelly's decision not to kick the ball to the Vikings' dangerous kickoff returner, Cordarrelle Patterson, in the Birds' 48-30 loss last Sunday.

On the Eagles' first five kickoffs, Kelly had Alex Henery go with shorter squib kicks and mortar kicks. Patterson never got a return opportunity, but the strategy gave the Vikings a short field.

They started three of those drives at their 34-, 38- and 46-yard lines, and the Vikings' average starting field position for the game was their 39. It was the second-best average starting field position against the Eagles this season.

Reese, who played for the Eagles for seven seasons from 1998 through the 2004 Super Bowl year, vehemently disagreed with Kelly's strategy, as did most everyone else in Philadelphia.

He said that if John Harbaugh, who was the Eagles' special-teams coordinator back then, ever had suggested doing that, he would have marched into Harbs' office with some of the other special-teams leaders and pleaded with him to kick the ball deep and give them an opportunity to stop Patterson the old-fashioned way.

Yesterday, I asked Eagles special-teams coordinator Dave Fipp if any of his players had done that last week when he informed them that they weren't going to be kicking to Patterson, who was averaging a league-best 33.9 yards per return and had two touchdown returns.

"I won't talk about what we talked about behind those doors," Fipp said.

Safety Kurt Coleman, who is one of the Eagles' top special-teams players and a guy with 29 career starts, said he didn't really have a problem with the decision not to kick to Patterson.

"You want to play aggressive," he said. "But you also have to understand that this guy was leading the league in kick-return yards.

"It's just a strategy, like anything else. Like double coverage or having somebody over the top [on a pass play]. I don't see it being a bad call. It was all about, let's not let him win the game. Make somebody else beat us. And that's what it came down to."

Which brings us to this Sunday. The Eagles will be facing another prolific return man: the Bears' Devin Hester. This time, they'll almost certainly be without Coleman, who is out with a hamstring injury, and another of their top coverage people, Colt Anderson (knee).

Which is to say that there's a pretty good chance we'll be seeing more mortar and squib kicks this week.

"Everything's on the table," Fipp said.

This probably wouldn't be an issue if Henery could get more of his kickoffs through the end zone. But he has the ninth-lowest touchback percentage (.446) in the league this season.

"Any time you kick off the ball, you have to weigh all of the conditions and situations," Fipp said. "How far can your kicker kick it? What are the [weather] conditions? Who is the returner you're kicking to? There's a multitude of variables that you have to play out. That's how we develop a game plan."

Hester, who has 18 career kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns, is fifth in the league in kickoff-return average (28.6) and sixth in punt-return average (12.2).

"He's a great returner," Fipp said. "He's arguably one of the best in the history of the game. We have a ton of respect for him. We have a huge challenge ahead of us. We'll see what happens."

The Eagles also hope to limit Hester's punt-return opportunities. Punter Donnie Jones has had just 33.3 percent of his attempts returned this season (25 of 75). That's the fourth lowest in the league.

"You want to try to eliminate those guys from the game," Jones said. "We did that the entire game last week. Australian-rules punts. It worked pretty well except for the last punt, which I kind of mishit."

Cary vents

Cary Williams longs for the NFL of yesteryear when the rules of the game were based on common sense rather than the potential for punitive damages.

Like most defensive players, the Eagles cornerback hates what the league is doing to the game in the supposed name of safety. Last Monday night, he watched in disbelief as Lions safety Louis Delmas was flagged for unnecessary roughness for a sideline hit on Ravens receiver Marlon Brown. Brown and Lions cornerback Bill Bentley were entwined just as Joe Flacco's pass arrived. Delmas, coming over from his safety position, tried to break up the pass and collided with both Brown and Bentley. The officials called him for illegal contact to the head and neck area on a defenseless player.

"That call was horrible," Williams said. "Those types of [calls], they make me upset. It kind of grinds my gears a little bit. It's one of the things that frustrates me as a defender.

"You're taught from [when you're] a young kid to jar the ball away. Especially when they have it close to their body. You're supposed to put your body on his body.

"Back in the day, you put your helmet on the shoulder pads or helmet on the helmet. Doing whatever it takes. Now, you've got to let the guy catch it, then he has to fall down. If he's not looking at you, then he's a defenseless receiver. I just don't understand what a defenseless receiver is.

"If you're out there, you know you're going to get hit when you catch the ball. Receivers, that's what they signed up for. They're going to catch the ball and they know people are going to try and hit them.

"I think the league is just covering their tails for the concussions and all this other junk, if you really want to be honest. It's a cover-up. [They're saying], 'You're not going to get any money out of us later on in life. No. Concussions? No.

"I don't like the calls at all. We might as well just let receivers catch the ball across the middle. Put a soft pillow down for them to lay on after they catch it. It makes no sense, man. It's frustrating."

The longest yard

In the Eagles' first 13 games this season, LeSean McCoy was money in short yardage. He converted 15 of 18 "and-1" situations and 27 of 35 situations of 2 yards or less.

Which is why it was so shocking Sunday to watch a Vikings defense that was ranked 22nd in the league against the run at the time, stop McCoy on consecutive third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 plays midway through the third quarter.

"If we get the first down there," center Jason Kelce said, "maybe that game turns out differently. I don't want to say it was the turning point because we were already losing [24-9] at that point. But it would have been a turning point in our favor if we had gotten that."

Kelce's breakdown of what went wrong on the two plays. First, the third-and-1:

"It was a pulling play for me and [left guard] Todd [Herremans] designed to hit right off the tight end. When I pulled, there was a down block [defensive tackle Letroy Guion] that ended up getting some penetration. I got picked off on that, so it slowed me down on my call [blocking assignment].

"What happened then was Shady got out in front of me. When Shady gets out in front of me, he sees my guy [linebacker Chad Greenway] in the hole and he has to bounce it outside. When he bounces it outside, you never know what's going to happen. It wasn't the way it was supposed to hit. And that's what kind of killed that play."

On fourth-and-1:

"It was an inside zone play to the left. Me and [left guard Evan] Mathis, because it's short yardage, we want to start off with a double team [on Guion] to get good vertical push. But because of the way their linebackers were playing, playing downhill so much and so wide, the reason they do that is to get you off double teams.

"So Mathis comes in hard initially and then he has to come off [Guion] quick. So I'm on only half a man [with Mathis]. Then Evan leaves [to block linebacker Audie Cole] and I have to try and push the guy [Guion]. In hindsight, I think we would have been better-suited if I would have let Evan go straight to the 'backer and manned [Guion] up myself. Because I would have been able to get on top of him right away.

"If we would have done that, I think Shady right away would have cut behind me and cut behind what was a pretty good push from our backside tackle and guard [Herremans and Lane Johnson]. That's what we wanted to do. That's the part of the play that gets the best push - the backside tackle and guard. And that's kind of where most of them have been hitting in short yardage."

This and that

* The Eagles have won the opening coin toss in eight of their 14 games. The first five times they won the toss (the first Redskins and Giants games, Chargers, Bucs and Cowboys), they took the ball. The last three times - against the Raiders, Cardinals and Vikings - they deferred.

* Bears right guard Kyle Long played for Chip Kelly at Oregon last season. Says he's like an uncle to him. During a media conference call this week, Long was asked for a favorite story about Kelly's coaching style. "Chip made blocking on a screen play very easy for me when he explained it," Long said. "He called [former Oregon tight end] Colt Lyerla and me over once. We had botched a screen in practice. He took out a piece of paper and drew a square with a circle in it. He said, 'Look, this is a pizza box with a pizza in it. I'm about to cut the pizza into two slices.' He said, 'Colt, this is your slice. Kyle just ate it. What are you going to do? Are you going to complain about it or are you going to take Kyle's slice?' That's how he explained blocking to me. The most-dangerous-man concept. If I block him, then you pick up my guy. That's just a small example of [wondering], how the hell does he think about this?"

* When the Eagles have faced bigger receivers the last few weeks, such as Lions' Calvin Johnson and the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, defensive coordinator Bill Davis frequently has had linebacker Connor Barwin line up across from them and delay their entry into their route. He is expected to do a lot of that again against the Bears' 6-4, 230-pound behemoths, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. "They're big, physical receivers," Barwin said. "You want to try to slow them down at the line. It takes them a little longer to get going [than smaller receivers]."

Figuring the Eagles

* LeSean McCoy, who leads the NFL in rushing with 1,343 yards, is on pace to finish with 1,535 yards. That would be the lowest total to win a rushing title since LaDainian Tomlinson did it in 2007 with 1,474 yards, and the third-lowest winning total in the last 21 years. Fourteen of the last 20 rushing champions made it to the playoffs. Five made it to the conference championship game. Four made it to the Super Bowl: the Seahawks' Shaun Alexander in 2005 (lost), the Broncos' Terrell Davis in 1998 (won) and the Cowboys' Emmitt Smith in 1995 (won) and '93 (won).

* The Eagles have accumulated a league-high 14 defensive pass-interference penalties, including two by Bradley Fletcher and Roc Carmichael in last week's loss to the Vikings. The 200 yards they have been penalized for those 14 infractions is the second most in the league (Houston has 263). Fletcher has a team-high five of those 14 penalties (for 50 yards). Carmichael and Cary Williams each have three (for 54 and 27 yards, respectively), Brandon Boykin has two (62 yards) and DeMeco Ryans has one (7 yards). Check out the chart on this page for a club-by-club breakdown of pass-interference penalties.

* The Eagles are 26th in the league in third-down defense (41.3 percent). In the last 3 years, just five of the 36 teams that qualified for the playoffs had a higher percentage than that.

2-minute drill

FROM THE LIP

* “He’s never asked for that. He’s never intimated any of that. And it’s easy to say, it’s easy to speculate, ‘Well, he was in college and he had full control and he wants full control here.’ That sounds great until you actually get to reality. And Jim’s never really ever asked for that.” — 49ers CEO Jed York on a report that coach Jim Harbaugh wants more control over personnel decisions

* “There’s no excuse for it. Because he’s such a good player, we’re all going to make excuses for him. But what he did was wrong. They were a little lax on him when he first came in as a rookie. Maybe they let him do things they shouldn’t have, things that they have to live with now.” — Hall of Fame coach John Madden on Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant going to the locker room before the end of Sunday’s loss to the Packers

THE WISDOM OF CHIP

* “I’m smart enough to know what I don’t know. And there’s a lot that I don’t know. So I’ll defer to the guys who really do know it.” — Kelly on dealing with injuries

BY THE NUMBERS

* Teams have combined for 1,190 touchdowns this season. That’s the most TDs at this point in the season in league history. Of those 1,190 TDs, 722 have come on passes, which also is the most ever through the first 15 weeks.

* Lions receiver Calvin Johnson has 5,094 receiving yards since the start of the 2011 season. He’s the first player in history to notch 5,000 receiving yards in any three-season span.

* Four teams that were in or tied for last place in their division last season — the Eagles, Saints, Panthers and Chiefs — currently are in or tied for first place. If any of them win their division, it will be the 11th straight year that at least one NFL team has done the worst-to-first thing.

* The Broncos are averaging a league-best 38.2 points per game this season. That’s the second most in history. The only team that averaged more was the 1950 Los Angeles Rams (39.8).

* There currently are 11 quarterbacks with a passer rating of 90 or better. Last year, there were 10. In 2003, there were just four.

Domo's rankings

1 Seahawks 12-2 (4 last week)

2 49ers 10-4 (5)

3 Broncos 11-3 (2)

4 Chiefs 11-3 (7)

5 Panthers 10-4 (8)

6 Patriots 10-4 (1)

7 Saints 10-4 (3)

8 Ravens 8-6 (9)

9 Cardinals 9-5 (11)

10 Colts 9-5 (12)

11 Bengals 9-5 (6)

12 Bears 8-6 (14)

13 Lions 7-7 (13)

14 Chargers 7-7 (16)

15 Eagles 8-6 (10)

16 Dolphins 8-6 (17)

17 Packers 7-6-1 (18)

18 Steelers 6-8 (19)

19 Cowboys 7-7 (15)

20 Rams 6-8 (20)

21 Jets 6-8 (21)

22 Vikings 4-9-1 (25)

23 Jaguars 4-10 (22)

24 Titans 5-9 (23)

25 Bucs 4-10 (24)

26 Giants 5-9 (26)

27 Falcons 4-10 (29)

28 Bills 5-9 (30)

29 Browns 4-10 (28)

30 Raiders 4-10 (27)

31 Texans 2-12 (31)

32 Redskins 3-11 (32)


Email: pdomo@aol.com

On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian.com

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