Donnie Jones the 12th man for Eagles defense, Nick Foles the 13th

Donnie Jones the 12th man for Eagles defense, Nick Foles the 13th

Philadelphia Eagles punter Donnie Jones was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the second game in a row on Wednesday, which is no surprise. His seven punts downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line in the 24-21 win over Arizona was one shy of the NFL record.

It’s not very difficult to measure the impact that’s had on the Birds’ defense. For every yard farther away from the goal line the offense begins a drive, the less likely it is to result in a score. The 350 yards the Cardinals racked up on Sunday is better than league average, but they were held to a below-average 21 points only in part because they were often faced with long fields.

Similar situation against Washington two weeks earlier. Jones down four punts inside the 20, none bigger than the 70-yarder in the fourth quarter to pin the offense at their own 4-yard line, down by eight with 3:26 remaining. Washington drove all the way down to the Philadelphia 18 before Robert Griffin III heaved the clinching interception.

Signed in the offseason as a free agent from the Houston Texans, Jones has managed to become an invaluable weapon for the Eagles. The 10th-year veteran has leapt into second place for kicks inside the 20 for the season with 29, while he’s up to seventh in net punting average at 41.3.

Philly.com’s Jimmy Kempski wrote a wildly enthusiastic and informative piece on Tuesday about “Donnie J’owns,” one day before the specialist was honored for the second time in three weeks. In summary, Jones is getting more hang time on his punts, fewer are being returned, and he’s pinning twice as many opponents in their own end than the combination of Chas Henry and Mat McBriar for the Eagles last season:

Last season, Mat McBriar averaged 4.19 seconds of hang time on his punts. Chas Henry averaged 4.21 seconds. 19 of the Eagles' punts last season had a hang time of 3.9 seconds or less. 10 of them were 3.5 seconds or less.

The result of such poor hang time by the Eagles' punters was evident by the return yardage they allowed in 2012. They led the NFL in punt return yards allowed, with 542.

Jones' directional punting and hangtime has been far superior. This season, the Eagles have allowed 121 punt return yards. Only 3 teams have allowed less.

...

• In 2012, 40 of the Eagles' 71 punts were returned. That's 56.3%. Half of the returned punts (20) went for at least 10 yards.

This season, only 22 of the Eagles' 65 punts (33.8%) have been returned. A grand total of 1 punt return has gone for 10+ yards.

...

• In 2012, the Eagles were dead last in punts inside the 20, with 15 of them.

This season, Jones already has 29 punts inside the 20, which is 2nd in the NFL.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that if Jones is the 12th man on a Philly defense that has held opponents to 21 points or fewer in eight consecutive games, somebody should probably mention Nick Foles is the 13th. After all, the only reason Jones gets to attempt so many punts is because the Eagles are turning the ball over so little.

In the combined seasons of 2011 and ’12, no team had more giveaways than the Birds’ 75—that works out to nearly 2.5 per game. You don’t get to punt the ball away once it’s turned over, and more often than not, the opponent is probably going to wind up with great field position.

This season, only five teams have committed fewer turnovers than Philadelphia at 15, and while we don’t mean to pick on anybody in particular, a lot of that has to do with Foles. It’s been well documented the second-year passer has yet to throw an interception this season, and he’s only lost one fumble as well.

And while the offense has struggled in the fourth quarter under Foles of late, scoring zero points in the final 15 minutes over the past four games, Jones’ punts are making it difficult for the other team to come back.

Sometimes good defense isn’t really about the defense at all, it’s about doing the little things right. That means taking care of the football and playing superb special teams—both of which are emphases under Chip Kelly.

>> Donnie Jones again named ST Player of the Week [CSN]
>> Donnie Jones? More like Donnie J’owns [Philly.com]

On verge of Super Bowl, Eric Rowe responds to Eagles, Roseman

On verge of Super Bowl, Eric Rowe responds to Eagles, Roseman

The Eagles' season ended a few weeks ago with a 7-9 record. 

In a couple weeks, Eric Rowe might be playing in the Super Bowl. 

Rowe, of course was the Eagles second-round pick in 2015 and went on to have a promising rookie season. But in 2016, the change of head coaches brought a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme, which Rowe apparently didn't fit. So a few days before the season began, he was dealt to the New England, where he has become a big part of their defense. 

In his after-the-season press conference on Jan. 4, Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman was asked about the trade and gave a somewhat curious answer. He said the team made the move because the front office had already determined they were not going to give Rowe an extension, even though he wouldn't have been eligible for two more seasons. 

If that sounded weird to Eagles fans, they weren't alone. It sounded weird to Rowe too, when the Wilmington News Journal's Martin Frank caught up with him this week. 

“That’s a long time away," Rowe said. "If that’s the reason, that’s really, really weird. You know, it’s whatever. If he thinks that, then I guess that’s what it was. They’re thinking way down the line.” 

Rowe, 24, ended up starting seven games during this regular season for New England, but played just 43 percent of the Patriots' defensive snaps. If Rowe played 50 percent of defensive snaps in 2016 or if he does it in 2017, the fourth-round pick the Eagles get back in the trade will turn into a third-rounder, so there's still a chance next year. 

While a third-round pick wouldn't be bad, the Eagles gave up on a young, talented corner just a year after drafting him because he didn't fit what they wanted to do. 

Shortly after the trade, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz called Rowe a good cover corner but cited the development of Jalen Mills as a reason why Rowe became expendable. Schwartz said he appreciated Rowe, but the personnel staff "decided to use him as an asset, and as coaches, we just deal with that and keep playing." 

It was pretty clear during training camp that Rowe had fallen out of favor with the Eagles. He was buried behind Mills and others on the depth chart, so maybe the trade was the best thing for him. 

"That was frustrating, just kind of like thinking, 'What am I doing wrong?'" Rowe said to the Wilmington News Journal. "Yeah, I made mistakes, but everybody makes mistakes. I'm not making bad mistakes. I'm making plays. Why am I sliding down? That was frustrating times. I would just go home and my girlfriend's there, and I'm telling her all this stuff. I'd tell my parents, and they're like, 'Just keep your head up, just keep working because you never know. Then boom, the trade comes up." 

And now he might get a chance to play in the Super Bowl, while the Eagles desperately need to fix their cornerback position before next season. 

Sixers-Trail Blazers 5 things: Streaking Sixers meet tough stretch

Sixers-Trail Blazers 5 things: Streaking Sixers meet tough stretch

Sixers vs. Trail Blazers
7 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

Coming off of an impressive win over the Raptors Wednesday, the Sixers (14-26) welcome the Trail Blazers (18-26) to the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night for the first game of a back-to-back. 

Here’s what to watch for the matchup:

1.  Streaking Sixers
What a new year it’s been for the Sixers.

Winning seven of their last nine games has Joel Embiid thinking playoffs. The Sixers are 5½ games out of the eighth seed in the East, and should get even better if (or when) Ben Simmons makes his debut.

With five teams ahead of them, it seems unlikely the Sixers get in, but why not enjoy the streak while it lasts and give Embiid and the youngsters a taste of their first success in the NBA?

2. Heating up
Speaking of enjoying the streak while it lasts, the schedule gets tougher from here on out.

With five sets of back-to-backs over the next two weeks, the team will be forced to play at least five games without Embiid. And the difference with "The Process" on the floor and off is staggering. The Sixers are 12-17 with Embiid, but a putrid 2-9 without the rookie sensation. Much of that can be attributed to Embiid’s stellar defense and Jahlil Okafor’s um, less than stellar, whatever he calls what he does on the defensive end.

3. Super Dario
Dario Saric’s improved play has been another catalyst for the hot streak. Saric has elevated his game during the 7-2 run, raising his numbers in points and rebounds, giving the Sixers a solid second unit. In fact, Saric is second (behind Embiid) among rookies in points (9.7) and rebounds (5.9) per game. 

“If Joel Embiid weren’t in the league, you’d have to talk about him in consideration for Rookie of the Year,” head coach Brett Brown said after Wednesday’s win.

4. Another one
After slowing the Raptors' All-Star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry on Wednesday, the Sixers face another dynamic backcourt in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The duo averages a combined 49.5 points per game, nearly half (46 percent) of the Blazers' total points per game.

Luckily for the Sixers, the Blazers are an abysmal 7-17 on the road this year, including 5-10 vs. the Eastern Conference. 

5. This and that
• The Blazers have given up an average of 114 points over their three-game losing streak. The Sixers have scored 114 or more points in five of their 30 games this season. 

• The Sixers are 3-4 in the first game of back-to-backs and 1-6 in the second leg. The Sixers face the Hawks Saturday.

• After signing a four-year, $70 million contract with the Blazers in the offseason, former Sixer Evan Turner is averaging 9.4 points, 3.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game, all down from his four-year average while with the Sixers. 

• Nearly every Sixer received a player vote for the All-Star Game: Embiid (43), Sergio Rodriguez (8), T.J. McConnell (4), Okafor (4), Simmons (3), Jerryd Bayless (2), Robert Covington (2), Nerlens Noel (2), Gerald Henderson (1), Ersan Ilyasova (1), Richaun Holmes (1), Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot (1), Saric (1).