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The Eagles’ misplayed punt return that led to the safety was a tough play for Greg Ward, his coach says

For the second straight week, Dave Fipp spent part of his Tuesday figuring out how a misplayed punt return could have been avoided.

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was taken down for a third-quarter safety against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was taken down for a third-quarter safety against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

For the second straight week, Dave Fipp spent part of his Tuesday figuring out how a costly punt return could have been avoided.

The Eagles’ special teams coordinator wasn’t exactly critical of Greg Ward’s decision not to field a punt that settled on the Eagles’ 2-yard line and led to a safety in the team’s 22-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns, but thought there were ways to avoid pinning the offense back.

“I thought it would have been a high-risk catch, trying to go in there and catch it,” Fipp said during his Tuesday news conference. “Obviously, the footing’s slick, you want to make sure in the rain that you have a little bit of extra time to make sure you secure the ball. Goal number one for us on that play is to give the ball back to the offense. You obviously don’t want the ball to roll like that, especially in hindsight, of course.”

The play in question came during the latter part of the third quarter on a rain-soaked afternoon in Cleveland. The Browns were kicking from midfield and Cleveland punter Jamie Gillan’s kick was a lower trajectory than usual, Fipp said.

Ward let the punt drop around the 11-yard line in front of him and the ball took a high bounce a few yards deeper before settling in around the Eagles’ 2-yard line.

Fipp said Ward could have played the ball off the bounce if he were positioned differently, but acknowledged it’s much easier to make that determination on a Tuesday morning rather than in real time.

“Maybe we could have caught the ball after the bounce,” Fipp said. “I don’t think we would have gotten any return yardage … maybe we could have eliminated the roll there and gotten the ball back to the offense on the 8-yard line, something like that. It’s easy to say that today. There’s some risk in doing that, obviously in that position back there, you’re managing a lot of risk, that’s a tough position to be in, there’s a lot of responsibility on that guy’s shoulders.”

“I think overall, I think Greg’s done a good job, I mean he’s minimized the real negative plays against our team obviously,” Fipp added. “I think with experience, being back there more, I’m sure there’s things that he would do differently today than he’s done in the past just like all of us and I would say, just being critical of myself, at the end of the day I gotta do a better job coaching them up and preparing them for those situations.”

Last week, Fipp said both Ward and Jalen Reagor should have fielded punts they let drop during the team’s 27-17 loss to the New York Giants. The Eagles struggled with field position for most of the Giants game, partly because of the returning duos’ decision to let a few punts bounce instead of catching them to limit the damage.

Fipp’s special teams unit fared a bit better against Cleveland, with the most notable play coming when Derek Barnett blocked a Browns’ field goal attempt from the 47-yard line. Still, Fipp said there’s room for improvement.

“I’d say it was probably much like any game, there’s some good, some bad and obviously a lot of plays we’d like to have back,” he said. “ … I thought we could have helped our team by making some plays we didn’t out there and whatnot. Obviously we did help the team with the blocked field goal, that was a positive, but I think, from my shoes, you’re always being critical of yourself. The bottom line is winning the football game, we didn’t win, and I think you always feel like your phase that you’re responsible for has a part in that, I certainly do with our performance on Sunday.”