Eagles ‘Not So Special’ Teams Give Opener Away

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: September 13, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — The Eagles opener should have come with the familiar financial services disclosure, “past success is not an indicator of future returns”, with returns being the key word.

In a game where the Eagles seemed to be in a preseason funk from the beginning, the punchless Green Bay Packers accepted a “gift”16-13 win fueled by miscues (penalties, special teams errors, turnovers, missed tackles and drops) by the Eagles.

Against the Packers the Eagles inability to find a return man cost them dearly. They didn’t have to keep Jeremy Bloom, but they did need to find a player who they could trust fielding punts and kicks. Packers quarterback Brett Favre and his offensive teammates did not need to score a touchdown in the quarterback’s record tying 148 regular season games won (co-holder John Elway), but they were able to produce 13 points off of three Eagles’ turnovers.

The last score coming on a 42-yard field goal from rookie Mason Crosby with two seconds left after Eagles punt returner JR Reed made the gaffe of the game muffing a punt that the Packers recovered deep in Eagles’ territory (31 yard line) late in the fourth quarter. The loss dropped Andy Reid’s record to 3-6 on NFL opening weeks.

Though Reid has usually rebounded after some bad opening game losses, you have to wonder when he will see the importance of the preseason (Reid 13-24 in preseason including 1-3 in ’07) in regards to working out the kinks when games don’t count. I am not saying that the Eagles need to play all of their starters for large amounts of the preseason, but mistakes not corrected in August often rear their head once the regular season begins and that was the case in Green Bay.

After the game, Reid was not happy about the mistakes made on the field saying, “Obviously, we can’t play like that and expect to win football games”. He added, “I don’t want to take anything away from Green Bay because they did a heck of a job staying with it and winning the football game. You can’t have the turnovers that we did on special teams and the dropped passes that we had on offense, the penalties (8 for 76 yards) we had on offense and the missed tackles we had on defense and the penalties we had on defense.”

The loss will no doubt will create a buzz of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” around the water cooler and on sports radio regarding how the Eagles could leave their fate in the hands of two relatively inexperienced return men (Neither Greg Lewis nor JR Reed had ever returned punts in a regular-season game before Sunday), but remember it is one loss in a 16 game marathon. However in the National Football League wins are hard to come by and I believe the Eagles will look back on this loss later in the year with lament especially with the hated Cowboys looking explosive in a 45-35 win over the Giants.

As bad as the loss in the opener was, it did feature the return of franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb from a knee injury suffered in the 10th game of the 2006 regular season. McNabb was average, finishing with passing numbers 15-of-33 for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but I think he looked good in his footwork and rhythm. He was able too avoid pressure and take a hit, but his numbers were hurt by drops and penalties.

McNabb said after the game of his effort, “It really doesn’t matter, I mean, we lost the game”. He added, “I had full command of everything that was going on out there, just like I thought I would. I mean, again, you try to practice hard to try and prepare you for the game, but when you get in game situation, you have to take care of the little things and I think we didn’t do that today.” The offense also got a good effort from running back Brian Westbrook, who had been in bubble wrap the entire preseason.

Though his rustiness showed on two bad pass drops, Westbrook looked good contributing 85 yards rushing and 46 yards receiving on 26 touches. Some are calling for him to also become the Eagles return man, but I believe he has enough on his plate and when did you ever see a marquee running back routinely returning kicks in their prime (The answer would be never).

The defense led by DT Mike Patterson (10 Tackles w/ one sack) put in a good effort against an inferior opponent despite having to deal with constant bad field position. They constantly harassed Brett Favre (4 sacks and 1 INT) limiting the Packers offense to three points, 46 yards rushing, 206 yards passing, and zero touchdowns. Usually that would be enough, but the offense and special teams didn’t do enough. BTW: Where was new MLB Omar Gaither (2 TKLs, and 1 Asst) in his first start??

I am sure that Andy Reid and Special Teams coach Rory Segrest have learned their lesson and changes will be made after watching the film on Monday, but I have the bad feeling this may be a foreshadowing of things to come with the Eagles “not so” special teams. Bring on the Redskins on Monday Night Football and Eagles fans will have to see if Reid can continue his Monday night mastery (10-4 including 3-0 in 2002).

Lloyd’s Leftovers

– I am sure Eagles fans will take solace (yea right) in that both return men and their coordinator spoke up about their struggles after the game. First-year special teams coordinator Rory Segrest said “First of all, we got a hard-working group of guys and we’re going to get back out there on the practice field and improve from this point”. Greg Lewis, who cost the Eagles seven points on his fumble of the first punt he has ever fielded since early in his college career said “It’s something you have to get used to, but it’s not an excuse to go out there and let the team down,” and “It’s not like you can say I haven’t had a lot of experience, so I should get some leeway. I messed up, that’s that.” JR Reed, who replaced Lewis and seemed to be a feel good story going into the game after he came back to the Eagles after being released in ’06 due to struggles with nerve damage, but didn’t look much better ultimately costing them the game said “I feel like I let the team down”. Reed added, “But I’m going to learn from it and I’m going to come back next game and play hard.” In any case, the Eagles need to decide on a punt returner (Lewis, Reed, Bloom, Reno Mahe — Eagles already called him– or my preference someone else (Jason Carter former Vikings WR/KR is a suggestion) to remove the bad taste of game one from their mouth.

– As bad as the Eagles played in the opener, they still had a chance to make everyone in Eagles’ land “whole” when Trent Cole forced a fumble on a sack of Favre that Jevon Kearse recovered. But the next three ineffective players were a Correll Buckhalter run for little yardage, a Westbrook run little yardage and a McNabb incompletion. The plays pushed the Eagles out of David Akers range to midfield, which forced them to punt and thus the game in essence was over.

– Philadelphia had to play the second half without cornerback Lito Sheppard, who sprained his knee in the first half and was unable to return. The team will have to wait for a MRI, but it wasn’t a good sign when Reid said Sheppard might be out “a little while”.

– Some may say Brett Favre is done at age 37, but he showed his fire in the third quarter on a game-tying drive when twice he looked dead to rights, but some how got the ball out. The play that typified Favre’s competitiveness was the underhanded flip to RB DeShawn Wynn while being dragged down by Takeo Spikes. Inexplicably Wynn busted loose for an 18-yard run and a giddy child-like Favre greeted him after he was tackled.

– As usual Eagles draft picks from the past couple years were a non-factor either being inactive for the game, playing only on specials teams, or dressing but not playing. OG Max Jean-Gilles (2006 Second Rd, Inactive), OG Scott Young (2005 Fifth Rd, Inactive), DT LaJuan Ramsey (2006 Sixth Rd, Inactive), DE Victor Abiamiri. (2007 Second Rd, Inactive), OT Winston Justice (2006 Second Rd, DNP), RB Tony Hunt (2007 Third Rd, Zero Carries), and QB Kevin Kolb (2007 Second Rd as expected DNP).