During the week, Eagles special teams coordinator Michael Clay talked about looking himself in the mirror, trying to figure out how to get his units to play better.
It can’t feel good to be the weak link on a great team.
That’s what the Eagles’ special teams units have been a lot of the time this season: A weak link. It even goes beyond their horrendous performance on kick return coverage last week against the Packers. They had a lot to clean up.
But Clay’s unit responded in a major way against the Titans.
“Special teams went crazy today,” edger rusher Haason Reddick said. “It just seemed like electrifying hit after electrifying hit after electrifying hit. And then [Britain] Covey running the ball today on punts. The special teams unit stepped up in a very big way today. I like how they responded compared to last week. Those guys was on a roll today.”
The Eagles took down the Titans in dominant fashion, 35-10, on Sunday at the Linc in what was arguably the most well-rounded win of the season. All three unites — offense, defense and special teams — dominated in this game.
And, finally, special teams really held up its end of the deal.
“It was good after the hit we took last week with everybody kind of blaming special teams for a lot of the team’s woes,” rookie linebacker Nakobe Dean said. “So we just kind of took it upon ourselves to go out there and make plays.”
They made a ton of them on Sunday.
Dean, Shaun Bradley and recently elevated Christian Elliss were monsters on the coverage units against the Titans. They each had huge hits as the Eagles finished the game with six special teams tackles.
Rookie Britain Covey had a great game as a punt returner too. He had 6 punt returns for 105 yards (17.5). His 105 return yards are the second-most by any NFL player this season. And after coming into the day with a career-long punt return of 15 yards, Covey had returns of 27, 25, 20 and 16 in this game.
Covey’s returns set up the Eagles with some great field position. And when the Eagles get great field position, they’re awfully hard to stop.
“Awesome. What a bounce back game, right?” head coach Nick Sirianni said. “So, we had those three kickoff returns that really sat with us all week, and then it was just a great bounce back game. Nakobe came down and lit somebody up. Britain Covey. We got a lot of good production out of our rookies and our second-year players.
“Christian Ellis, Britain Covey, Nakobe, Shaun Bradley, K'Von (Wallace), Andre (Chachere), all those guys came out. I'm missing a bunch of guys. Kyron (Johnson). But they went out there and they were hungry to bounce back.”
In an attempt to give the special teams units a boost, the Eagles elevated Elliss from the practice squad for the first time all season. This was just the second NFL game of Elliss’s career and he made the most of it. He learned on Wednesday that he was going to be active for this game.
“I believe in our guys,” Elliss said. “We have some amazing special teams players. We just needed to do our job. That was the big emphasis this week. Do our job. Be Energizer Bunnies, bring the energy. I was just trying to add a piece to that. We have guys who are ballers so I was just trying to fit into that puzzle any way I could.”
Elliss made three tackles on defense when he got on the field late, but his real highlights came on those two big special teams tackles. That’s why he was playing, after all.
“I would say it was just more attention to details. We got back to fundamentals,” Dean said. “I wouldn’t say too much changed other than the passion towards special teams. The whole mindset kind of shifted in the unit and I feel like we play the best when we play the best with that energy and passion.”
While the Eagles’ biggest special teams debacle came last week when they gave up several big kick returns, there have been issues all year. Penalties, fake punts, minimal returns.
You got the feeling that one of those mistakes was eventually going to cost them a game.
That’s why Sunday’s performance was so encouraging. Because the Eagles are a team with legitimate Super Bowl hopes. The Eagles have been solid on offense and defense all season. And it was just one game, but that was a great special teams performance on Sunday.
They might not be a weak link after all.
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