Sirianni: ‘Everything is on the table' to fix kick coverage

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After the Eagles gave up huge chunks to Packers kick returner Keisean Nixon on Sunday night, head coach Nick Sirianni says “everything is on the table” to fix the issue.

While the Eagles beat the Packers 40-33 on Sunday night, Nixon returned 5 kickoffs for 172 yards (34.4) and had two 50+ yard returns.

You get the feeling that this is an issue that could eventually cost the 10-1 Eagles a game at some point and that’s unacceptable.

“We have to do whatever we have to do to get it fixed,” Sirianni said on Monday, without divulging the plan. “Obviously, I'm not going to tell you, ‘Hey, this guy is going to play here, this guy is going to play here,’ but obviously everything is discussed.

“Is there a guy you can call up from practice squad that could help? That's discussed. Is there a guy that can give you a phase or two on special teams that's a starter? That's discussed. Everything is.”

Nixon is one of the best kick returners in the NFL but it’s still rare for teams to get killed on kick returns in the modern NFL the way the Eagles were on Sunday night. His 172 return yards were the most the Eagles have given up in a game since the Lions’ Jeremy Ross had 172 back in 2013.

The Eagles are now the second-worst team in the NFL in opponent kick return, giving up an average of 27.2 yards per return. The only team that has been worse is Miami (28.3). For reference, the median average in the NFL is around 22.0 yards per return.

This is just one example of the Eagles’ shaky special teams units this season. While there have been plenty of bright spots — and we saw some on Sunday night with a long field goal, better kick returns and a booming punt — there’s no question that special teams has been the weakest of the three phases for the Birds this season.

Sirianni brought up the fact that Nixon was willing to bring the ball out from deep in the end zone on Sunday night. Most returners probably wouldn’t have. But the Eagles still have to be able to stop him.

“Obviously, when you're playing a really good returner you try to keep it out of his hands when you can, but that's not always possible,” Sirianni said. “We can't dictate when he takes it out or not. I do, I got a lot of respect for him as a returner.

“We need to be better on kickoff coverage, though. First of all, we are always going to look at ourselves in the mirror first as coaches and say, ‘Did we put them in the best positions to make plays?’ Everything that goes on on that field is my responsibility, and it's my responsibility first.”

The strange thing is that the first kickoff of the game was a beauty. Nixon fielded it at the -1 and brought it out to the Green Bay 9. But after that, it was much harder for the Eagles to stop him.

Nixon fielded his next kick at the 3 and went 38 yards to set up the Packers at their own 41. Then he fielded one at the -5 and took it 52 yards to the 47. They he fielded a pop kick at the 6 and took it 19 yards to the 25. And Nixon capped his day by taking one from the -6, bringing it out 53 yards to the 47.

There are just four kick returns in the NFL all season of at least 50+ yards and Nixon had two of them against the Eagles in one game.

The Eagles have had their fair share of issues on special teams this season. While Sirianni has expressed faith in special teams coordinator Michael Clay and his assistants, the Eagles this season have given up fake punts, they’ve had costly penalties and have really struggled to get much going in their own return game.

Go ahead and put opposing kick return average at the top of the list. It’s at least a good sign that Sirianni seemed to have a sense of urgency about fixing the problem.

“I won't tell you this is what's happening this week because we're still in the early phases of what can help,” he said. “Again, it always starts with myself and putting them in the right position, but then the guys have to go out and execute it. It could be shuffling guys around. Like I said, I thought Nakobe Dean played a really good game on special teams, so maybe he takes a different role within the special teams. Maybe it is on kickoff, maybe kickoff return, wherever it may be, because he's doing a nice job.

“Again, doesn't have to be just the guys in there. Can be a shuffle and everything is on the table to make sure that we're doing our jobs to make sure that it gets right. That's all we care about, is how we get this thing right.”

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