Trey Burton returns a blocked punt for a touchdown during the second half against the New York Giants that helped the Birds win.
By Michael McCarthy
Even though the Eagles’ 10-6 record wasn’t good enough to make the NFL playoffs, coach Chip Kelly’s performance is getting high praise from an unusual source:
A media outlet in Dallas, of all places!
Kelly had never spent a day in the league before becoming the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, bringing his offensive expertise to the pro ranks from the University of Oregon.
Kelly won the NFC East and presided over the NFC’s best offense in his debut season. But that first year was a learning experience and one of the lessons Kelly learned was that he needed better special teams.
Philly finished 18th in the NFL in special teams in 2013, so Kelly undertook a sweeping upgrade last offseason.
Kelly traded for returner Darren Sproles and kicker Cody Parkey and signed a pair of special-teams coverage aces in free agency, Bryan Braman from the Texans and Chris Maragos from the Seahawks. Kelly also hit on undrafted college freeagent Trey Burton and street freeagent Chris Prosinski for his coverage units.
The changes were dramatic. The Eagles vaulted all the way to the top of the league in special teams, finishing first in the 2014 NFL special-teams rankings compiled annually by the Dallas Morning News.
The league’s 32 teams are ranked in 22 categories and assigned points according to their standing – one for best, 32 for worst. The Eagles wound up at 201.5 points, 26.5 better than runner-up Buffalo. The Cowboys finished 13th at 389.5 points.
Sproles returned punts for touchdowns against San Francisco (82 yards) and Carolina (65 yards) and was named to the Pro Bowl team. Parkey led the NFC in scoring with 150 points, converting 32 of his 36 field-goal tries and all 54 of his extrapoint attempts.
The Eagles tied an NFL record with seven special-teams touchdowns and also blocked a league high six kicks, including two apiece by Brandon Bair and James Casey. Three blocked punts by coach Dave Fipp’s units were returned for Philly touchdowns by Maragos, Burton and Brad Smith. Maragos led the Eagles with 14 tackles in coverage, followed by Casey with 13, Nolan Carroll with 11 and Braman with eight. Carroll also chipped in a fumble recovery.
The AFC champion New England Patriots finished third in special teams this season and the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks 17th. The Bills made the greatest leap in the rankings, moving from 31st in 2013 to second in 2014. Buffalo ranked in the Top 5 in both kickoff and punt coverage.
Here are the rankings: