Eagles’ special teams regression continued in 2020

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Dave Zangaro
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How much did Eagles' special teams regress in 2020? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles are facing some franchise altering decisions in the next few weeks and months and that starts with hiring a new head coach to replace Doug Pederson and a new defensive coordinator to replace Jim Schwartz.

But what does the future hold for Dave Fipp?

Fipp has been the Eagles’ special teams coordinator since the 2013 season, lasting through the transition from Chip Kelly to Pederson in 2016. But with major long-term questions surrounding the team, it’s fair to seriously doubt Fipp will make it through another coaching change, especially as his units continued to slide in 2020.

In his annual ranking of special teams units, respected football columnist Rick Gosselin ranked the Eagles’ special teams units at No. 17 in the league.

Honestly, I’m surprised the Eagles ranked that high. But I trust Gosselin, who ranks the units based on a grading scale of 22 different categories.

And putting the Eagles at No. 17 still shows the gradual decline we’ve seen from their special teams units since they were the best in the NFL several seasons ago.

Here’s where the Eagles have ranked in each of Fipp’s seasons:

2020: 17th 

2019: 15th

2018: 14th

2017: 13th

2016: 1st

2015: 5th

2014: 1st

2013: 19th

At his final virtual press conference of the season, which came before the Week 17 loss to Washington, Fipp was asked if 2020 was the most challenging season he’s faced as the Eagles’ special teams coordinator.

“Is this the most challenging year? I don't know,” Fipp said. “Every year is challenging in some ways. Like I've said before we have a really high standard, I have a high standard for myself and for the things that we get done on special teams. I think I said last week, we've won four games. Last week, we were going into game 15. This week we're going into Game 16. It’s definitely not been good enough in any area, certainly not mine that's for sure.

“At the end of the day, we've got one more game left to play. Obviously, I think as coaches, players, all we can do is focus on the things we can control. We got an opportunity in front of this week. We're certainly going to put our best effort forward and that's kind of what we've done all season long. The outcome hasn't always been we wanted it to be. I tend to put more of my focus on the process.”

In fairness to Fipp, it’s much harder to judge special teams than it is to judge offense or defense. If an offense stinks, it’s easy to see. Ditto defense. But special teams consist of several different units and a lot more players.

On top of that, injuries have killed the Eagles in recent seasons. That hurts a team on offense and defense but it crushes teams on special teams. Because any time a starter gets hurt, they’re replaced by a backup who is normally a special teams contributor. It all trickles down and leaves Fipp without his top players, which has happened plenty the last few seasons.

All that said, the Eagles special teams units were a problem this year. The kicker Fipp continued to support struggled, the punter wasn’t consistent and the return units mostly failed to give the Birds good field position. Could Fipp get his units back to that previous level? Maybe. But it might be time for a change too.

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