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.