Special teams remain a mystery to many fans and, sadly, to almost all broadcasters. Nonetheless, special teams plays are plays and they have design and execution. They have personnel. And they have coaches. The Eagles have been fortunate to have had two of the best ST coaches in the league, first in John Harbaugh and now in Dave Fipp and they are fortunate to have a Head Coach and General Manager who values special teams and commits assets to them.
Judging purely by results, the Eagles have great special teams. Last year was sensational, I believe the best season any special teams unit has ever had, combining returns and blocked kicks and coverage. This year, hmm. Issues have arisen, mostly injury related, but still a net positive.
Herewith the opening kickoff and a study in play design.
A few words about the personnel. All these guys can run and all these guys are used to hitting in space. Nobody's more than 250. It's also almost a "hands" team. Both starting TEs are out there, as well as Cooper. Two of the front six are safeties, plus two LBs a WR, and the third TE. Huff is out of the screen behind the goal line and the next four are in a crooked diamond configuration with Brad Jones at the point of the diamond. Cooper is off-set to give greater field coverage in the event of a low line drive kick. The Saints players are labeled in the traditional way, right and left, numbers going from outside in.
Three of the front six peel back, but three go forward.
Ajirotutu and Couplin, the two outside Eagles, attack the L2 and R2 defenders, while Goode goes for R5. No one, not even Fipp, expects these guys to maintain their blocks for any great length of time. The purpose here is to open gaps in the coverage, one left, one middle, one right, delaying these defenders and knocking them out of their lanes. The other three from the front line peel back. They will key on Brad Jones at the tip of the diamond. These three guys will not look back at the coverage; Jones will let them know when to turn.
Here's a side view:
We can see at a glance how the spacing of the New Orleans coverage line has been disrupted. Couplin has knocked L2 way out of his lane - he's better than five yards behind L1 and there is a 10-yard gap between L1 and L3. The gap is not so great between R1 and R3 but it's wider than it should be. There's also a gap in the middle. Attacking the coverage in this way retains option for returns left, right, and up the middle.
Cooper will watch the ball into Huff's hands. Celek and Ertz are coming together, and Jones is setting up at the 25-yard line. Again, we can see how disrupted the coverage is, because of the work of Couplin, Goode, and Ajirotutu.
By design, the Eagles now have six blockers against five defenders. Seven, if Couplin can get leverage against that L2 nearest the sideline.
Huff has a clear lane with Cooper in front of him. Interesting to me is that Maragos ignored the closest Saint and blocked farther up field. That can't be an accident but something that came from film study. The Saint player will overrun the play.
Here's why the play did not go all the way. Ertz doesn't quite get enough of the L1 and Huff has to make a slight inside cut...and loses the lane.
Then a hard cut left...
Leaving one defender on his hands and knees...
Jets past another, who grasps at air, and makes another cut, to the right...
But now he's surrounded. His help is too far away.
And gets to the 40. Pity. That play almost broke. Beautiful design. If Ertz gets just a little bigger piece Huff scores untouched.
Here's the gif: