Michael Clay explains special teams' miracle turnaround


Eagles special teams coach Michael Clay meets with the Eagles beat writers every Tuesday morning, and the general theme in the first 11 of those meetings was, “Why were you guys so bad on Sunday?”

Or Thursday or Monday, as the case may be.

Let’s face it, Eagles special teams has been brutal this year. They’ve been embarrassed twice on fake punts, muffed two punts, had a field goal blocked, committed a personal foul on a fourth-and-12 field goal attempt, couldn’t get anything going in the return game.

Through Week 12, they were ranked last in special teams by Pro Football Focus.

Then came Sunday and not only did the Eagles fix all their special teams issues, they actually played remarkably well in all phases in their 35-10 win over the AFC South-leading Titans.

And Clay was thrilled to finally have some positives to discuss.

“This team, this (special teams) group, they're very prideful,” Clay said. “Anytime you put (out) a performance (like) Green Bay, no one is going to be happy about that, but they came in Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, ready to be a contributing factor for this. 

“I'm just really proud of those guys going out there and the energy and the passion they had to go out there to help the team was outstanding.”

You name it, the Eagles did it.

They limited C.J. Board’s return yardage, they finally got Britain Covey going with the four longest punt returns of his short NFL career, they committed just one harmless penalty and most importantly there were no major gaffes or breakdowns.

They looked like a real special teams unit.

“It was probably our best game all-around special-teams wise all year, and we just talk about trying to be consistent,” Clay said. “You can always do it one time. Now we've got to do it four consecutive times to help this team in our run at the end of the year right here.”

It might not be a huge jump, but they’re now 29th in PFF’s special teams grading.

Small steps.

Shaun Bradley, Zach Pascal and Nakobe Dean played particularly well Sunday, but how about the impact practice squad elevation Christian Ellis made in his first meaningful NFL game?

Ellis played 21 special teams snaps and made two big solo tackles, including a set-the-tone stop on the Eagles’ first punt.

“Being on the practice squad you can get kind of lost in the shuffle, you may not take it seriously in terms of, ‘I probably won't get called up,’” Clay said.

“But Christian comes in every day and he gives maximum effort, regardless of what he's doing, whether that's scout team, whether that's giving us a rush on punt, and when his number was called … he was ready to perform out there, and just some added boost, some big hits, some collisions out there, some good blocks on the punt return. Kudos to him just to be ready whenever his number is called.”

Clay said that as bad as things were against the Packers, his approach during the week was the same as ever.

“My approach, I try to keep a very steady, similar approach week in and week out,” he said. “You don't want to not be yourself. These guys are going to figure out when you're not yourself. You spend so much time with these people that they're going to find out when you're not who you are.

“So I just try to be the same person I am day in and day out, and it's just one of those things where the energy that we have through practice, throughout the game was evident (in the game). There were some big collisions out there and everyone felt that, and that's the sole talking point throughout the week -- just energy, just energy and passion, and everything else will take care of itself. Fortunately for us, it happened on Sunday.”

Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast

Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | Watch on YouTube

Contact Us