For the first time since 1992, the Philadelphia Eagles scored two special teams touchdowns in the same game. For the first time since 2000, the Eagles scored a special teams touchdown for the second consecutive game. Both these marks were set in the Eagles game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. The scores came when rookie tight end Trey Burton blocked a punt and receiver Brad Smith fell on it for a touchdown, and when Darren Sproles returned a punt 82 yards for a score.
The first score came when the Niners were forced to punt from their own 1 yard line on their first possession of the game. Typically, San Francisco positions punter Andy Lee about 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage and his block point (the point where the ball hits his foot) is about 9 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Backed up in their own end zone, Lee was only able to be 10 yards deep and his block point was at a depth of roughly 6 yards.
This gave Philadelphia a much better chance to block the punt. The Eagles lined up with 8 men in the box and rushed all of them at the punter. This is an all out punt block scheme. The Niners are using a zone blocking scheme. The guards, tackles, and wings all will step back and protect the gap outside them. Long snapper Brian Jennings must protect the right A gap and personal protector Craig Dahl will step in to block in the left A gap.
Immediately, there is a big problem for the Niners.. Jennings is unable to get a block on Eagles linebacker Bryan Braman. This creates a bigger problem, which is that San Francisco’s left guard, Dan Skuta, now has to block both Braman and Trey Burton.
Burton completely overpowered Skuta and drove him back towards Lee. As Lee was moving to punt the ball, Burton leaped up in the air and extended his arms. He was able to get a hand on the punt and Brad Smith fell on it in the end zone for a touchdown.After the game, Burton said “We saw that was one of their weaknesses in punt protection. (Bryan) Braman and I pretty much walked the guard into the punter and blocked it.”
The Eagles did a very good job to decide how to attack San Francisco’s protection scheme while Burton and Braman executed perfectly.
The next time the Niners had to punt, they had much better field position to work with. Rather than go for an all out block, this time Philadelphia decided to set up the return with only 7 players in the box. Each Eagle has an assigned gap and was taught to rush the punt through their gap. If they were to get off to a good jump and think they have a shot to block the punt, they are to keep running through the block point. However, if they get blocked, then they are to immediately abandon the punt rush and begin to set up the return.
Here, Philadelphia is attempting to return the ball in between the San Francisco left guard and left tackle. Smith and safety Malcolm Jenkins are responsible for kicking out the left tackle and left wing, respectively. Tight end James Casey and safety Chris Maragos are responsible for blocking down on the left guard and personal protector, respectively. The long snapper is allowed to go free while the 3 defenders on the backside must block the man in front of them.
Running back Chris Polk was the only Eagles to get off to a good jump, so everyone else dropped back and began to block for the return. Polk ran right through the C gap and almost blocked the punt, but missed it by inches.
Jenkins, Burton and Braman got off to a quick start and are already in position for their blocks while Casey, Smith, and Maragos are all working to get in position.As the ball floats through the air, we begin to see the return lane opening up in between Smith and Casey. We also see left vice Bradley Fletcher come into the picture as he is running to block Jennings, the long snapper.
When Sproles catches the ball, the running lane is clearly wide open. Casey has made an incredible block, driving his man all the way to the other side of the midfield logo while Smith is blocking his man to the sideline.The two Niners gunners are the only defenders in position to make the tackle.
Sproles made both of the gunners miss, despite being facemasked by one of them, and he’s off to the end zone.This is another play the Eagles executed perfectly. Jenkins, Smith, and Casey made great blocks to open up the running lane. Sproles made the first two defenders miss and no one else had a shot at him.
Philadelphia is probably more improved on special teams in 2014 than on any other part of their team. Many of the players involved in these players, including Sproles, Burton, Jenkins, Braman, and Maragos, are new to the roster this year. Head coach Chip Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman made upgrading the special teams a priority this offseason and it is paying off.