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Eagles Notebook: Eagles explain specially bad plays

The Broncos' scores on a kickoff return and a blocked punt are lessons learned.

Eagles linebacker Jake Knott. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Eagles linebacker Jake Knott. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)Read more

A REALLY BAD DAY in Denver for the Eagles' special teams began with Trindon Holliday's 105-yard kickoff return. Yes, on that replay Fox kept showing, you clearly saw the Broncos' David Bruton grab the Eagles' Jordan Poyer with both hands, pull his jersey away from his shoulder pads, and throw him to the ground - while being praised for his excellent block by Troy Aikman - but nobody from the Eagles really raised a ruckus.

That's just special-teams life, Eagles wideout Jeff Maehl said yesterday. Maehl was one of the would-be tacklers who ended up watching Holliday's back as he cut from the middle of the field toward the left sideline.

"Stuff like that happens on special teams every week in the NFL," Maehl said yesterday, as the Eagles turned their attention to this Sunday's game at the Giants. "That's the hardest job on the field . . . you've got some hungry guys out there that are trying to be starters in this league and trying to keep their careers going. Special teams are the most physical place out there, most of the time."

Poyer agreed.

"I didn't even ask" the officials why the hold wasn't called, he said. "I felt the way I felt. At the end of the day, you've got to make plays. You can't rely on the refs to make plays for us; you've got to be in the right position to make plays. I just wasn't in the right position at the time."

Poyer said he thought the return was his fault, though he wasn't the only Eagle to get out of his lane. When Poyer tried to elude a blocker by going outside, and a couple of other guys on the right side moved to the middle toward Holliday, a huge hole opened.

"I put that whole return on me," Poyer said. "I felt if I did shoot the gap where I should have shot the gap, the blocker was in a position where he would just wash me all the way into my own guys. I made a decision to try to wrap around him and turn the ballcarrier up inside, so that our help could get there . . . You live, you learn, and that's what it is."

Maehl said the Eagles "had a couple guys on the inside that got sucked down a little bit, and when [the return] came back to the outside, it left a big void there. When I was coming down, I kind of had to just set the edge so they couldn't bounce it outside. He's a dangerous return man. You give him that much space, it's hard to catch him. We'll get better."

On the replay, it looked as if Casey Matthews drifted toward the middle from the right, and Najee Goode somehow ran into Chris Polk's back. Maehl stopped and set the edge, as he said, but was blocked as Holliday cut inside him.

Of course, that was only the first half of the Eagles' special-teams follies. In the fourth quarter, with the outcome no longer in doubt, Broncos linebacker Steven Johnson came right up the middle untouched and easily blocked a Donnie Jones punt. Johnson, a former Strath Haven High star, scooped up the ball and scored from 17 yards out.

Brandon Graham, lined up just to the right of long snapper Jon Dorenbos, took off and zoomed downfield to try to limit Holliday's return, leaving Johnson a clear path to Jones.

"I made a mistake," Graham said yesterday. "I counted [the Broncos] wrong," Graham not realizing he needed to block Johnson instead of a Bronco who had pulled off the line. "I should have held in there a little longer . . . I heard [the thud of the ball hitting Johnson's hand]. When I heard it, I was going 'Ohhhh!' And when I saw the dude that did it, I was like, 'Oh, that was my guy' . . . I'm never going to make that mistake anymore."

Jones said he thinks it was the third or fourth block he's suffered in 753 career punts.

"I always tell myself, 'Man, if you can feel [someone coming], you can just pull the ball back and run,' but it happened so quick," he said. "In 2 seconds, it was gone . . . You know how sometimes these guys hold the ball out [near the goal line]? I tried to see if I could somehow get down there and strip it out, but they had three guys blocking for him."

Davis for the defense

It wasn't Winston Churchill's Dunkirk speech, but the tone was similar, as Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis spoke up for his embattled troops yesterday.

"We can and we will" get past Sunday's 52-20 blasting by the Broncos, in which the Denver offense scored 37 points, Davis said. The Eagles' defense is ranked last in the NFL.

"Those games are tough to swallow, but you move on from 'em . . . Right now, we're at the stage of 4 weeks of live football that we've tested the defense in," Davis said. "We are not where we want to be, but, believe it or not - I know the results are not there - but behind the scenes, I've watched that game probably 10 times now on tape, along with every other game we've played, [and] the fundamentals, the techniques, the understanding, the players playing with each other, it is moving forward.

"The guys know that the daily work, that the techniques - it'll turn. It'll turn. It hasn't turned yet, it's not where we want it to be, but we'll continue to put our heads down and work. I really believe it will turn."

Davis said his unit has the talent to be effective, once everyone is comfortable and is playing 3-4 techniques instinctively.

Reiterating what Chip Kelly said Monday, Davis told reporters the Eagles' coverages work long to short, meaning they focus on not getting burned deep. He said now that they are confident they can shut down the deep ball this way, they need to "get tighter in our zones" and stop giving up so much underneath.

He said, "Our tackling is getting better. We're not there yet."