To this point in the season, I have been underwhelmed by our special teams play. Football Outsiders, on the other hand, seems to disagree. The Eagles are ranked #4 in the NFL in Special Teams by DVOA. #4!!
That means that either we have misjudged the special teams; everybody in the league is as frustrating to watch on special teams as we are; or the things that are most frustrating are not being adequately captured by FO.
I think the truth is that a little of all three are at issue here.
In the table below, I show the ranking of the Eagles by DVOA in each of the five primary special teams categories. For comparison purposes, I also show the six teams that the Eagles have faced this year.
Focusing on the Eagles' row, note that other than two categories, they are above average, but not by a lot: FG/XP, Kick and Punt. The coverage teams have been just ok, and David Akers is an average kicker at this point in his career. All that is probably right. Yes, we harp on the negatives of these units (Akers managed to miss two of five 40 yard kicks against Oakland, Rocca had the temerity to shank one against Washington, we failed to tackle Rock Cartwright when we had the chance on that one kickoff) but the truth is that on the whole, these units have been pretty solid. The Punt unit has had the advantage of going against only one Punt Ret unit in the top half of the league, and the kickoff unit is split 50/50 with good and bad Kick Ret units.
The return teams are at opposite ends of the spectrum. DeSean Jackson has been consistently outstanding on punt returns, so it isn't too surprising that he has helped us to be second in the league. Who knows, if he didn't celebrate his touchdowns with such vigor and let Maclin on the field to return punts, maybe we'd even be #1. Further, notice that four of the six Punt units that the team has faced are in the top half of the league.
The kick return unit has been our biggest sore spot. We have only broken off one of 40+ yards, and that is well below the rate at which Ellis Hobbs and Quintin Demps did so last year. And it isn't like we are facing elite Kick units -- four of the six teams we have faced are in the bottom half of the league. And quite frankly, going off of memory, most of the frustrating STs penalties that I can remember have been on kick returns.
Now, on the topic of penalties, I think STs penalties are the most frustrating element for fans. And rightly so. I think that part of the problem is the transition to the new blocking rules with the elimination of the wedge. This would be a league-wide problem, though, and I can't get a sense of how many STs flags are being thrown this year league-wide. If anyone has that data, let me know. However, from what I have seen from other teams, everybody seems to be drawing STs flags.
Further, it isn't clear to me how, if at all, DVOA for Special Teams takes penalties into account. So it could be that this is an unquantified element, I don't know. You'd think if it were unquantified, doing so would drag us way down. But as I said, I have no benchmark.
Now, onto this week's production points tables. The numbers are quite strange, to be honest. It seems that the coaching staff thought that this was, by far, the best STs performance of the year. That isn't my recollection of the game. Here is the summary by week, or plays and points per play:
Huge explosion in points this week. I can't explain it. Could be errors in entry, though they appear to be uniform across players, could be historical adjustments showing up this week, I don't know. Or it could simply be that the coaches thought we were really good this week. I didn't see that, but I am not a coach - it is hard to know what is really happening based on the small view you get on a tv screen.
Here are the points per player:
- Huge weeks by Sean Jones and Eldra Buckley at 36. Before this week, Jones had the highest total of the year at 30.
- Rocca got a lot of points in a week that didn't seem that strong to me. Yes, he had a short field to work with a lot, but he didn't do anything that spectacular and he had a bunch of shanks. On one hand, the Redskins only generated 10 return yards against him on 8 punts, which says that the kicks were put in a place where the coverage teams could (and did) make plays. On the other hand, the Redskins have been struggling a great deal on punt returns all season.
- Jason Avant had his best game of the year. Maybe he has been saving the energy that he would have been spending on catching the ball on offense and used it on special teams.
- Quintin Demps is driving me nuts. Dumb penalties, and in general, he should be a lot better, IMHO.