"Amazing" is the word New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin used this week to describe the special teams play of the Philadelphia Eagles during the first five games of the 2014 NFL season. It is pretty much impossible to argue with that description.
Darren Sproles has returned a punt for touchdowns this season and Chris Polk has returned a kickoff for a touchdown. The Eagles have also scored a pair of touchdowns off blocked punts. Polk, averaging 40.4 yards on five kickoff returns, has a hamstring injury. If he can't go Sunday, perhaps Sproles will be forced into double duty. Sproles is averaging 15.9 yards on 14 punt returns this season, third in the league. His 82-yard touchdown return against the New Orleans Saints is the longest return in the league this season.
Football Outsiders, using its DVOA formula, ranks Philadelphia's special teams as the league's best. Pro Football Focus gives the Eagles a grade of +17.0, third in the league. By contrast, the Giants are 23rd in Football Outsiders' rankings and 22nd according to Pro Football Focus.
Advantage Philadelphia. Question is, what are the Giants doing to do about it? Can they manage, at the very least, not to get hurt by special teams play Sunday night?
"It's a challenge. They've been productive at the right time. You step up and hope to meet that challenge and produce yourself," said Giants special team coordinator Tom Quinn. "I think they're just well-coached. They've got good players doing it and everyone did their job. The kickoff return against Washington was well-blocked, the guy made one guy miss. The punt return, (Darren) Sproles is always dangerous when you let him get going vertically. They've just done a good job with that."
Kicking To The Eagles
The Giants are 29th in the league in punt coverage, surrendering 14.0 yards per return. All of that damage has come on two returns -- a 71-yard touchdown return by Ted Ginn of the Arizona Cardinals and a 26-yard return last week by Devin Hester of the Atlanta Falcons. The common denominator on both punts? Both were balls kicked down the middle of the field by Steve Weatherford, normally one of the league's best directional punters, rather than to the sideline where the coverage was expecting the ball. The pressure will be on Weatherford Sunday to hit his spots.
Another question will be whether or not the Giants can keep on-rushing Eagles away from Weatherford. They struggled with that in Week 1, having a punt blocked and seeing Weatherford tear ligaments in his left ankle when he was roughed on another punt. As mentioned above, the Eagles have blocked a pair of punts already this season. You can bet they will try to pressure Weatherford at some point.
The Giants have been excellent on kickoff coverage. They have surrendered 18.0 yards per return, fourth in the league.
The Giants have not done well returning kicks thus far this season. Preston Parker is averaging only 6.6 yards per punt return, putting the Giants 22nd in the league. In fairness, Parker has had two nice returns nullified by penalties. Kickoff return has also been disappointing despite the offseason addition of Quintin Demps, who averaged 30.1 yards per return for the Kansas City Chiefs last season. Demps is averaging only 21.3 yards on 11 returns and his longest return has been 29 yards. Both Demps and Parker have fumbled kickoffs this season.
The wild-card for the Giants could be Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants have said they expected Beckham to be their punt returner this season. He was back for one return last week in his debut against Atlanta, a fair catch. It will be interesting to see if Beckham gets increased return responsibilities this week. Coughlin said this week he would consider Beckham an option on both punts and kickoffs.
We have already talked about Weatherford. Giants placekicker Josh Brown made three field goals last week, including ones from 49 and 50 yards. He is 7-for-7 so far this season and 16 of his 27 kickoffs (59.25 percent) have gone for touchbacks.
Rookie placekicker Cody Parkey has made 10-of-11 field goals for the Eagles thus far. Eighteen of his 32 kickoffs (56.25 percent) have gone for touchbacks.Veteran punter Donnie Jones is averaging 43.7 yards per punt with a net of 38.2.