Poor field position and misplayed punts were the least of the Eagles’ special-teams problems on Sunday.
In the team’s 33-26 road loss to the Arizona Cardinals, injuries and mistakes on the special-teams unit cost them at least two scoring opportunities in a close game.
The Eagles spotted Arizona a 16-0 lead in the first quarter thanks mostly to a blocked punt and a safety. The Cardinals’ second touchdown drive started on the Eagles’ 6-yard line because of the blocked punt, when a handful of Arizona players swarmed Eagles’ punter Cameron Johnston and sent the ball rolling toward the Cardinals’ end zone. It took the Cardinals just two plays before Kyler Murray found running back Chase Edmonds for a 6-yard score.
“We self-destructed, man, in the first quarter,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said after the game. “Gosh, the blocked punt, we had the safety, it was just mistakes, penalties, we lined up wrong a couple times offensively. It’s just self-inflicted things in the first quarter that just set us back.”
Johnston landed on his head after getting flipped mid-air on the play, and missed the rest of the game with a head injury, further complicating things.
Without Johnston, kicker Jake Elliott took over the punting duties and Zach Ertz stepped in as the holder. In Ertz’s only opportunity to play his new position, the Eagles bungled an extra-point attempt that would have given them a one-point lead in the third quarter.
Ertz may have mishandled the ball, but long snapper Rick Lovato, who skipped the ball back to Ertz in an uncharacteristically poor snap, was primarily to blame. Instead of taking a 27-26 lead late in the third quarter, the Eagles went into the fourth tied.
After the game, Pederson said Ertz gets practice reps as a holder during the week, but conceded he would have preferred going for a two-point conversion moving forward after seeing the failed PAT attempt. It was a moot point, because the Eagles didn’t score after the failed PAT.
“Zach Ertz is our backup holder,” Pederson said. “We practice with him during the week, he gets snaps. It was unfortunate, Rick put a bad snap back there and it was on the ground and Zach did the best he could right there to put the ball down. After that particular play, my consideration to go for two [points] went up just a little bit more.”
The lack of a punter seemingly forced Pederson’s hand on a few fourth-down situations, although Jake Elliott did fine in his two punt attempts, averaging 38.3 yards and forcing one touchback.
Aside from the two pivotal plays, the Eagles continued to struggle in the return game. The offense started inside of its own 30-yard line on 11 of its 13 drives. On the six drives that were started on kickoff returns, Boston Scott only got past the 25-yard line once, something that’s been a problem all season.