Eagles analysis

Eagles' ST coordinator gives the inside scoop on the fake punt vs. Cowboys 

The Eagles played an ugly game on Sunday but they did pull off a really exciting play on special teams.

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Not much went right in the Eagles’ 33-13 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday night in Dallas. The Eagles were overwhelmed on offense and defense in the blowout loss to their biggest division rival.

But at least special teams showed up!

And the fake punt Michael Clay’s unit pulled off early in the second quarter was a thing of beauty.

“It was just something we thought about maybe a few weeks back,” Clay said on Wednesday. “Just something to keep in our back pocket in case the situation came to fruition. Kudos to the guys. When something like that is up, it's all on the guys executing it well and feeling confident in it. They did a really good job over the last however long we have been working on that to get the old OK.”

Clay got the OK on a 4th-and-2 on the second play of the second quarter. The Eagles were already down 10-0 in the game so the fake did give off a sense of desperation but, hey, the Eagles were desperate at that time.

Punter Braden Mann took the long snap cleanly from Rick Lovato and as he stepped into what looked like a punt, he smoothly flipped his hips and hit a wide open Olamide Zaccheaus, who scampered loose for a huge gain of 28 yards. The Eagles capped the drive with a 52-yard field goal to finally get on the board.

Clay mentioned that the Eagles got a little extra time to think about the possibility of running the fake punt because the second quarter had just begun. As the teams flipped sides, the Eagles were obviously hoping they’d be able to convert on 3rd-and-2 but if they didn’t … they were ready.

“We just had it in our back pocket that we were able to say, ‘Hey, if something bad does happen, we have this if you feel confident with it, we feel good with it,’” Clay explained. “And just, again, the communication here has been outstanding between everybody from top down.

“It was nothing that we were scared of or miscommunicated. Once it was called and we got the green light, the guys executed again. It took all of them.”

During pre-game warmups, Mann often shows off his arm while having a catch and he’ll even snag a few one-handed catches. Mann, 26, is a pretty good all-around athlete. In addition to football, Mann played soccer in high school and grew up doing Taekwondo.

Clay had plenty of confidence that Mann would be able to make the throw.

“Braden is a true athlete,” Clay said. “I always knew he could throw the ball. If you look at his Jets tape, he threw a fake against Cleveland, so it's not like nobody didn’t know he could throw the ball.”

The other key component for the fake punt was Zaccheaus. While he’s not the usual gunner on the punt team, it’s not completely out of the norm for him to be out there. He also played that role against the Rams so it’s not like seeing No. 13 out there was enough for the Cowboys to signal any alarms.

Zaccheaus did a good job selling his role and securing the football after the catch too. He was getting clawed at but showed good ball security in a game where the Eagles really struggled with that element of the game.

So where did the design of the play come from?

“It’s just something you come up with, or you see something even from around the league, you see things of what's going on,” Clay said. “On Mondays, I watch every snap of every game around the NFL. I just try to get a pulse of the flavor of the year in terms of the whole NFL.

“But it was just something we saw, something we thought, ‘All right, we got a guy that can throw. All these gunners do a great job.’ It starts on Wednesday with Tyler going through his meeting, how detailed his meeting is and just an opportunity to go, ‘Hey, if we get this opportunity, let's not be afraid of it. Let's detail up. Let's execute it.”

While the Eagles have struggled in recent weeks on offense and defense, their special teams units have been really good. Aside from a rare penalty on Sunday night, Clay’s unit shined again against the Cowboys.

Even when Mann isn’t throwing the ball, he has been a clear upgrade over Arryn Siposs, who began the season as the Eagles’ punter. Mann is averaging 48.9 yards per punt and has a net average of 42.8 — both are career highs. And he’s also downing punts inside the 20 at a rate of 35.5%, which is also a career high.

On Sunday, had the Cowboys given the Eagles an unscouted look on that snap or if there was any reason why they thought the fake might not work, the Eagles could have checked out of it and punted the ball away.

Luckily for Clay, Mann, Zaccheaus and the entire Eagles’ punt unit, they got the look they wanted.

“They got to execute, and they did a heck of a job executing it,” Clay said. “The detail was perfect. Braden laid it out there. OZ made a heck of a catch, secured the ball, and flip of the field.”

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