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]

Wayne Simmonds stars as Flyers top Predators, push win streak to 5 games

Wayne Simmonds stars as Flyers top Predators, push win streak to 5 games

BOX SCORE

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Dave Hakstol likes Wayne Simmonds’ net-front play more than that of any player in the league.

The Flyers' power forward showed on Sunday why his coach thinks that way.

Simmonds’ two power-play goals in front of the crease helped extend the Flyers’ win streak to five, their longest of the season, in a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Sunday night (see Instant Replay).

“If there’s a better guy in the league at net front, whether it’s on power play or 5 on 5, I don’t know who that is,” said Hakstol said after Sunday's victory. “He did a great job there tonight.”

Simmonds’ first goal came when he deflected Jake Voracek’s shot past Juuse Saros, giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead at 18:12 of the first period.

“They had great movement around the top of the box and Jake told me to go back door if he was going to get it for a one-timer,” Simmonds said. “So I stuck my stick out back door and he hit it, and it went in the net.”

Then Simmonds batted a puck through Saros' legs for a 2-1 advantage at 6:47 of the second period for his team-leading 13th goal of the season.

“It was kind of a little bit of a cluster and the puck comes to me, and I’m alone in front of the net so I just put it five-hole and it worked,” Simmonds said.

The right wing’s father was watching in the sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena during the Flyers' annual father-son trip.

“It was nice, obviously,” Simmonds said. “I just went outside and saw him. He didn’t really say much to me, but I know he’s glowing on the inside.”

Simmonds has now scored 10 career goals in 20 games against Nashville.

“What I really like about Simmer is he’s at net-front, he’s scoring goals, he’s on the power play, but he’s a great, hard-nosed, 200-foot player,” Hakstol said.

Simmonds’ goals gave the Flyers an early spark on Sunday.

“It was huge,” said Flyers left wing Michael Raffl, who scored the winning goal at 16:37 of the second period when made a power move on a rush and tucked the puck past Saros. “That gives us all the momentum.”

The Flyers improved to 7-3-1 in their last 11 games.

“We’re just trying to take care of pucks and maintain the pressure that we have,” Simmonds said. “The next shift up every game is the most important shift and that’s how we’re trying to play it here.”

Predators coach Peter Laviolette, a former Flyers coach, wasn’t surprised by his former team’s power-play success. The Flyers entered the game tied for the third best power play in the league cashed in twice on seven chances on Sunday.

“We knew going in that their power play was really good,” Laviolette said. “Their players have a lot of time together and cohesiveness and they’re pretty set in what they do. They bring pucks to the net and when they do that, things can happen. That was a difference in the game tonight.”

Winning goalie Steve Mason has started 10 of the last 11 games. He made 30 saves Sunday to improve his record to 8-8-3.

“This is the situation I want to be in, so it’s a workload that all summer you prepare for even when I was not getting the work load I wanted,” Mason said. “You prepare for it and now that it’s here I’m making the most of it.”

Sources: Phillies close to signing reliever Joaquin Benoit

Sources: Phillies close to signing reliever Joaquin Benoit

WASHINGTON – It looks as if the Phillies will have some action at the winter meetings.

The team is close to signing veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit, sources tell CSNPhilly.com. The winter meetings officially begin on Monday. The signing is expected to be announced before the meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, is a veteran of 15 seasons in the majors. He is coming off a strong 2016 season in which he pitched in 51 games for Seattle and Toronto and recorded a 2.81 ERA.

Benoit began the 2016 season with the Mariners and had a 5.18 ERA in 26 games. He was traded to Toronto in July and gave up just one run in 23 2/3 innings over 25 games, but did not pitch in the postseason after suffering a torn calf muscle in late September.

The right-hander has pitched for six teams in his career and has a lifetime 3.79 ERA in 712 games.

Entering the offseason, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said he wanted to improve the bullpen. He opened the offseason by trading for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and last week claimed lefty David Rollins off waivers from Texas. Now, Klentak is poised to add Benoit.

Benoit has mostly pitched in a setup role in his career, but he does have closer experience. It is unclear what role he’d pitch in for the Phillies. The Phils have Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris returning to the back of their bullpen in 2017. Benoit could complement that pair or the Phillies could choose to trade Gomez or Neris.

Neris pitched in 79 games in 2016 and had a 2.58 ERA, so the Phillies would only deal him if they were to get a strong package of talent in return.