PHILADELPHIA — The first two games of the season, the Eagles’ special teams were rock-solid, even if they didn’t generate spectacular returns. But against Kansas City, all kinds of stuff went wrong.
It started with the opening kickoff, which former Eagle Quintin Demps brought back 57 yards. It continued with the Eagles’ first touch of the game, when Damaris Johnson fumbled away a fair catch. Nothing seemed to go right from there; Donnie Jones averaged a 34-yard net on four punts, and Demps broke out to his 30 on another kickoff return, causing kicker Alex Henery to haul him down with a tackle that was ruled both a horse-collar and a facemask, putting the ball on the KC 45. Oh, and Henery missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt, after missing a 46-yarder against the Chargers.
This is yet another area where the Eagles need to get back to where they want to be, with the Broncos and returner Trindon Holliday on tap. Holliday is the guy who scored against the Ravens in the playoffs on a 90-yard punt return and a 104-yard kickoff return.
“I think all of us are learning,” special-teams coordinator Dave Fipp said this week. “We didn’t play to our standard … I have a lot of confidence in our guys. We’ll continue to grow, continue to improve. It’s a long season.”
The Eagles have used some starters on special teams this year. Fipp said he didn’t think the three-games-in-11-days stretch to open the season meant any of those guys were dragging against the Chiefs.
“We’re very cautious in who we use and when we use them, what those plays are, and how much we’re taxing those guys that are starters,” Fipp said. “Usually our starters are on one (special) team, they’re not on three or four.”
Fipp said he isn’t unhappy with Henery.
“I don’t worry about Alex at all,” Fipp said. “He’s missed two balls in that 40-to-49 range. He’s 50 percent (from that range) on the year. Everything else is 100 percent.”
Fipp said he’ll stay with Johnson on punts and kickoffs, with DeSean Jackson making occasional punt-return appearances in special situations.
Johnson said KC’s leftfooted punter, Dustin Colquitt, served him a “knuckleball,” but there was no excuse for muffing it. “It was a fair catch, it wasn’t as if I was trying to make a move or anything. It was something where I just didn’t look the ball in,” he said.
Linebacker and special-teams stalwart Casey Matthews said the biggest coverage problem against KC was the one everyone always mentions when something goes wrong. “Everybody has to stay in their lanes, that’s really what it is,” Matthews said.
Asked about Holliday, Matthews said: “At the high altitude, we’ll get longer punts, we just need to get coverage … It’s all about staying in your lanes. Some people, if they know who the returner is, especially if he’s been successful, they’ll start overcompensating. That’s what punt returners want you to do, they want you running sideways, and then they just cut it up.”
Henery said Demps stiff-armed him in the face “and I couldn’t see where I was tackling. Hopefully we won’t have to do it too much more.”