Chris Polk ran a kickoff back for a TD against the Redskins.

By Harry Allison

The Eagles enter Week 6 a 3-point favorite against the Giants with one question that burns brighter than any other:

How long can they depend on their spectacular special teams to keep them afloat in the NFC East?

After picking up scores on a blocked punt and a fumble recovery against the Rams last week, Philly now has seven return touchdowns in its first five games. If that seems like a lot, you’re right:

Nobody else in the NFL has more than three.

In fact, the Eagles have more defensive and special teams touchdowns through five games than any other team in NFL history. Four teams were previously tied for the record with six, most recently the 2003 Chiefs, who were going through the absolute climax of Dante Hall hysteria. Most public schools in the K.C. area shut down as children insisted upon solely communicating by throwing up the X. It was a crazy time.

I’m not bringing this up as trivia; for a team that has won three of its four games by a touchdown or less (and stayed competitive in its sole loss), the return touchdowns have kept things afloat. There are 20 previous teams in NFL history that scored five return touchdowns or more in their first five games. The return touchdowns helped, as our return-happy teams won 76.0 percent of their first five games, for an average of 3.8 wins. Those teams produced an average of only 2.4 return touchdowns over the remainder of their respective seasons, though, while winning 66.0 percent of those games. That’s still good, of course, but it’s about a 1.5-win difference over the course of a full season.

In this case, the return touchdowns are masking a struggling Philly offense. The Eagles lead the league in points scored per game, but take the return touchdowns out of every team’s totals — only include points scored by the offense — and Philly falls to 18th. The offensive line injuries have sapped the strength of the running game, and Nick Foles has struggled to throw downfield.

Will it all come back to bite them? In the long run, they can’t keep playing this way, because the return touchdowns are going to run out. Granted, the Giants have already fumbled away two kickoff returns this year, and even the good version of Eli Manning throws his fair share of interceptions.

Unless LeSean McCoy finds traction, though, the Eagles might need another one of those return touchdowns to cover the spread.


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