We don’t necessarily need statistics to confirm what we already see with our own two eyes, but data helps us articulate in conversation or writing how good or bad something is.
Case in point, the Eagles’ kick return coverage, which according to the Sport Radar data is second-worst in the NFL in terms of opponent average yardage:
27.2 yards on average for an opponent returning a kickoff. You saw this in action the other night, especially at the end of the game when Green Bay started deep in the end zone and brought the ball out to what, the 50 yard line? Coverage was mostly dreck, which Nick Sirianni talked about after the game:
Q. Coming in statistically, Packers CB Keisean Nixon was one of the better returners in the NFL and your kick coverage unit was one of the worst. What went into the decision to actually kick the ball to them three times?(Jeff McLane)
NICK SIRIANNI: As you saw the one, we’re trying to put it in the back of the end zone. He took it out eight deep. You can’t kick it out of bounds because then you give it to him at the 40-yard line. So, we’re kicking it as deep as we possibly can, and he happened to take one out.
Obviously, when you’re playing a really good returner you try to keep it out of his hands when you can, but that’s not always possible. We can’t dictate when he takes it out or not. I do, I got a lot of respect for him as a returner.
We need to be better on kickoff coverage, though. First of all, we are always going to look at ourselves in the mirror first as coaches and say, ‘Did we put them in the best positions to make plays?’ Everything that goes on on that field is my responsibility, and it’s my responsibility first.
So, if the defense doesn’t do something that they’re supposed to — I’m not just the offensive coach, right? If the defense doesn’t do something that systematically or scheme-wise, it’s on me first. Same thing with special teams.
So, I say that to the point where I’m not putting anybody out there. We need to put them in better positions, and that starts with me, and then it goes to Coach Clay.
I truncated that quote a bit since it was long, but you get the point.
The thing about special teams is that there are a ton of factors that go into the data. The more you score, the more you’re kicking off. If your offense is shitty, you’re doing more punting. Then you consider kicking away from a specific player and/or trying to drop a kick into a certain area. You have to add up fair catches and touchbacks and factor those in as well.
For what it’s worth, Eagle opponents have an average starting field position of the 22.4 yard line, which is a top-10 league-wide number, so when you combine everything together, they aren’t getting totally killed in the greater field position battle. It’s specifically the kick return coverage, and then the lack of explosiveness in their own return games that makes special teams a lackluster unit overall. They did take Britain Covey off of return duty, but they’re just not a threat to do much in that area even with someone else in there.
If we have a justifiable gripe about a 10-1 football team, it’s that the special teams unit just hasn’t been as good as it should be.