In the Eagles' win over the Redskins before their bye week, Donnie Jones hit a monster 70 yard punt, which pinned the Skins at their own 4 yard line, making them drive the length of the field to try to tie the game with 3:26 to go. If there's such a thing as a "clutch punt," that was it.
Last Sunday against the Cardinals, Donnie Jones punted 5 times in the second half. He pinned the Cardinals inside the 20 on all 5 of them, which once again was a critical part of the Eagles' win. On the day, Jones pinned the Cardinals inside the 20 yard line 7 times, one shy of the NFL single game record.
The punting game has been one of the biggest improvements from last year to this year, and Jones' play has not gone unnoticed by defensive coordinator Billy Davis. "The field position has been outstanding," said Davis. "That is a huge part of why we have had some success in the game against Arizona. Donnie putting it inside the 20 is really unbelievable. He's been as big a reason for us having success defensively as anybody."
"Those plays are huge in a game," said Jones. "It fires the defense up. That's one thing that really makes me get excited, is when I see those guys running onto the field when they're excited about (the opposing offense) starting on the 8, or starting on the 2. That's what's rewarding to me, knowing that I'm doing everything I can to help them out, putting them in the best position to be successful."
Last season, the Eagles punted 71 times (plus one that was blocked by Marvin McNutt's butt), and I put a stopwatch on all 71 of them during the offseason. With a quick disclaimer that I'm an amateur with the stopwatch, the Eagles had a grand total of 0 punts with a hang time of 5 seconds or more.
Zero... point... zero.
Last season, Mat McBriar averaged 4.19 seconds of hang time on his punts. Chas Henry averaged 4.21 seconds. 19 of the Eagles' punts last season had a hang time of 3.9 seconds or less. 10 of them were 3.5 seconds or less.
The result of such poor hang time by the Eagles' punters was evident by the return yardage they allowed in 2012. They led the NFL in punt return yards allowed, with 542.
Jones' directional punting and hangtime has been far superior. This season, the Eagles have allowed 121 punt return yards. Only 3 teams have allowed less.
Some more 2012-2013 comparisons in the punting game:
• In 2012, the Eagles were brutal when they punted near FG range. On their 12 closest punts within FG range, which were all at least at the Eagles' 48 yard line or closer, the opponent's average starting field position was the 17.8 yard line. Four of those punts went for touchbacks, three of them were actually outside the 20, and only one measly punt pinned their opponent inside the 10 (it was at the 9). That's absolutely awful.
This season, Donnie Jones has pinned Eagles opponents inside the 9 a total of 9 times:
• In 2012, 40 of the Eagles' 71 punts were returned. That's 56.3%. Half of the returned punts (20) went for at least 10 yards.
This season, only 22 of the Eagles' 65 punts (33.8%) have been returned. A grand total of 1 punt return has gone for 10+ yards.
• In 2012, the Eagles were 31st in net punting average, at 36.9.
This season, the Eagles' net punting average is 41.3, which is good for 7th in the NFL.
• In 2012, the Eagles were dead last in punts inside the 20, with 15 of them.
This season, Jones already has 29 punts inside the 20, which is 2nd in the NFL.
• In 2012, the Eagles only downed the ball 4 times on the season, which was last in the league.
This season, they've downed 15 of them. Give a hat tip to Brandon Boykin on that one. "I know he's going to have great hangtime," said Boykin.
In the past, punters were often judged on how far you could kick it. Donnie Jones couldn't care less about distance. "I don't even look at gross (punting) average," said Jones. "It has no relevence to me, no importance to me. Basically, it's a stat on how far you can kick a ball. Well, you kick it, and they return it. It's all about the net (average), and 'drive starts' inside the 20's. That's what the game has evolved to. That's what I think more and more people are learning, and understanding that you don't judge a punter solely on (distance)."
"I feel like I have just as strong a leg as anyone out there," shrugged Jones, "but different situations in games require different punts....
"One year I led the NFL in gross punting average. We had a 41 yard net. I had a 50 yard average. There's a 9 yard separation there. We gave up almost 500 yards in returns. Anytime you kick it to that guy and he's got room, they can hurt you. That's why I say sacrifice some distance for placement and hangtime to eliminate return yards."
• When he played for the Rams, he once chased down DeSean Jackson... sort of.
• Donnie Jones wears shorts in December. Why? Because Donnie Jones is a badass.
• Donnie Jones would take a bullet for you if he could. Against the Cardinals, after James Casey jumped on a fumble, Jones jumped on top of Casey:
"I was trying to protect him," said Jones. Casey added, "Donnie of course is having a phenomenal season so far, also making the little plays by jumping on top of guys when they recover fumbles."
The little plays?!? How dare you, James Casey, you ungrateful sonofabitch.
• Jones and long snapper Jon Dorenbos have a rap album that went triple platinum.
Grit. Brains. Brawn. Soul. Excellence.