Fipp: Henery 'roughly the 14th-best kicker' in NFL

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Fipp: Henery 'roughly the 14th-best kicker' in NFL

Dave Fipp keeps hearing how awful Alex Henery is and how the Eagles need to replace him and find another kicker and upgrade the position.
 
From Fipp’s perspective, that’s going to be really hard to do.
 
Fipp, now beginning his second year as Chip Kelly’s special teams coach, acknowledges that Henery has some weaknesses that he needs to work on but said Henery’s strengths make him the Eagles’ best option moving forward.
 
Henery's accuracy has dropped from 89 percent as a rookie to 87 percent in 2012 to 82 percent last year. And his kickoffs were among the worst in the NFL last year.
 
Fipp talked at length Monday about Henery and gave him a vote of confidence … sort of.
 
Henery has two jobs. Making field goals and kicking off. Fipp acknowledges that Henery must improve his kickoffs but believes he can. He also believes he’s a better placekicker than he gets credit for.
 
First, the kickoff issues.
 
Henery managed only 37 touchbacks in 89 kickoffs last year, and his 41.6 percent touchback percentage ranked 24th among 32 kickers who kicked 50 times or more.
 
That means better field position for the other team, and that means more points.
 
Fipp said Henery simply has to be better, and the two seem to have a plan to try and make that happen.
 
“Some of it is a strength thing,” Fipp said. “There’s a million things he can work on, but probably the biggest for us is the way he strikes the ball. We’re trying to drive it a little more than hit it high. Obviously a little less hang time and a little further.
 
“If you look at the guys who are hitting with the best touchback percentage, they don’t necessarily have a stronger leg but they’re striking the ball a little bit different, so their trajectories are a little bit different, so we’re trying to bring him back down to that.”
 
Then there’s the placekicking.
 
Henery in his three NFL seasons has made 74 of 86 field goal attempts, and his 86.0 percent career accuracy is tied for sixth-best in NFL history among kickers who’ve attempted at least 50 field goals.
 
But when you look inside the numbers, you see some concerns. He’s missed five field goals of 39 yards or shorter in his career, two in a one-point loss in 2011 to the 49ers that cost the Eagles a winning record. He missed a 48-yarder that would have given the Eagles a second-quarter lead in the playoff loss to the Saints. He missed field goals in three straight games early last year.
 
He’s also made just two kicks of 50 yards or more in his career and none over 51 yards.
 
Fipp believes Henery’s field goal numbers overall are very good. And he explained why.
 
“So many people get caught up in that overall number,” he said. “He went from [87 percent] to [82 percent]. But that could be the difference in one kick. It’s not like a passer completion percentage, where they have a million throws. These guys have [approximately] 28 kicks and one or two kicks off is a major shift.
 
“The other thing with Alex, his number dropped off significantly, but how did the number drop? We asked him to kick a 60-yarder right before halftime [against Dallas]. Well, there was a slim chance to make that, so he misses that, but if we didn’t ask him to do that, his number is higher.”
 
Take away that low-percentage 60-yarder, and Henery’s accuracy in 2013 goes from 82.1 percent to a more palatable 85.2 percent. Take away a 61-yarder he missed as a rookie and his career mark goes to 88.1 percent, fourth-highest in NFL history.
 
“Where his struggles are is long-range field goals,” Fipp said. “And I’m not arguing with that, but you’ve got to put everything into perspective.
 
“What’s happening? You can’t just look at the end results and say, ‘His numbers are terrible.’ Really, his numbers in a lot of the ranges are really good and most teams in this league would take those numbers.
 
“Now, the dilemma is that he hasn’t kicked the ball off well enough, but short to mid to mid-long he’s a very accurate field goal kicker. … Now, touchbacks are a different story.
 
“But replacing a guy like that is not easy because who’s out there as a field goal kicker? If he’s out there, somebody’s taken him. So you’re trying to find a guy who’s hard to find. But the bottom line is Alex has got to get better. I’ve got to do a better job, he’s got to do a better job, but there are some things he’s really good at.”
 
Henery, a fourth-round pick in 2011, does have competition this year for the first time as a pro. The Eagles signed undrafted rookie free agent Carey Spear out of Vanderbilt, but he’s a longshot to beat out Henery.
 
Especially after Fipp spoke at length about how tough it would be to replace Henery.
 
“At the end of the day he’s still a really good kicker,” Fipp said. “There are a lot of teams that would like to have a kicker as accurate as him on their team.
 
“Would you like him to be better on kickoffs? Sure you would. But if you take both of those stats, where does he rank in the league in [field goals and kickoffs], and add 'em up and divide by two … he’s roughly the 14th-best kicker in this league.

“So there’s 17 teams that want a guy as good as him.”

Darren Sproles 'amazing' 73-yard TD set tone for fun 2nd half vs. Steelers

Darren Sproles 'amazing' 73-yard TD set tone for fun 2nd half vs. Steelers

When Darren Sproles caught the nifty touch pass from Carson Wentz around midfield, there was little doubt about what would happen next.

"Touchdown," running back Kenjon Barner said after the Eagles' stunning 34-3 shellacking of the Steelers (see Instant Replay)
 
Really? With that many yards to go?

"Touchdown," he said. "As soon as he caught the ball. There was nobody there. That guy in the open field — you're not going to bring him down by yourself. With that much space — touchdown."

Barner wasn't the only one.

"Man, it's Sproles! Did you think he was going to get tackled?" receiver Nelson Agholor said incredulously. 

Uhh …

"Man, listen, it's Darren Sproles, and if you second-guessed him, then I don't know what you're thinking," he said. "I'm surprised if he gets tackled."

So is center Jason Kelce. 

"I was actually celebrating before he scored the touchdown, because I watched the whole thing unfold," Kelce said. "It was just a great play. [Wentz] scrambles out and then has the common sense to when the defender comes to him to dump it over top to Sproles, and that dude, once he gets the ball in space, it's incredibly special."

It sure was. 

First, Wentz stepped away from charging defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who had gotten away from Allen Barbre. 

“I came out and saw Sproles and he just turned up the field,” Wentz said. “Anytime that you can put it in [his hands], something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it.” 

Wentz did a little more than that (see story). After escaping the sack, he rushed to his right and made a right turn. Then he parallelled the line of scrimmage, drawing linebacker Ryan Shazier toward him — and allowing Sproles to get wide open.

Whoops.

"I thought he crossed the line of scrimmage, so I ran up," Shazier said. "It was my fault."

Sproles caught the pass, snaked his way the remaining 50 yards, spinning Steelers rookie safety Sean Davis around a couple times and watching rookie corner Artie Burns flail at him helplessly right before crossing the goal line.

"When they do that, it kind of gets everyone off their job when he extends the play like that," Davis said. "Me being a deep player, I just tried to buy us some time once I saw that we got broken down and let the defense rally up, and it's just a good play [by] him."

An amazing play. It was a 73-yard touchdown on the fourth play of the third quarter, a 3rd-and-8, and put the Eagles up 20-3 (see 10 observations). It was the second-longest catch of Sproles' career and longest since 2009 while with the Chargers (an 81-yarder vs. Baltimore). It was easily the longest TD of Wentz’s career and a main reason he was able to become only the second rookie in team history to reach 300 passing yards in a game (Nick Foles is the other).

“It was so much fun,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “Those are the kinds of plays you can’t design. It’s players making plays. … Sproles did his thing and wiggled down there, and it was fun to watch.”

That’s what Agholor should have done. Just watch.

"I was trying to chase him down and almost pulled my hamstring," Agholor said. 

"You see those moves he put on them? Pffft. And DGB (Dorial Green-Beckham) ran downfield — that downfield block. Think about that. We were having a lot of fun tonight man, and I'm very happy about that."

Eagles' 'fiery' defense dominates again vs. Steelers

Eagles' 'fiery' defense dominates again vs. Steelers

Connor Barwin wasn’t quite sure. 

The veteran defensive end definitely hoped the Eagles’ defense would be dominant, that the aggressiveness would pay off, that the talent would take over. 

But he wasn’t sure. 

“To be honest with you, I really didn’t know,” Barwin said. “I thought we were talented. I really felt that we had a good team, a good group of guys that all liked playing with each other. But all through summer and OTAs, you don’t really know until you go out there and play. So far we’ve been playing together as a team. We’ve been pretty disciplined, played smart and played hard.”

After Sunday’s 34-3 clubbing of the Steelers and after the Eagles’ defense has given up just 20 points through three weeks (see Instant Replay), things are coming into focus. 

The Eagles’ defense wasn’t just good on Sunday against Pittsburgh … it was downright dominant, holding a team with a future Hall of Fame quarterback, the best receiver in the league and the NFL’s leading rusher coming into the week, to three points. 

Three. 

“They just weren’t going to be denied,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “They just weren’t going to bow their necks. They weren’t going to let them in the end zone. It came down to our will vs. theirs and I was just so happy with the way the guys played.” 

Just how dominant has the Eagles’ defense been? Well here’s a look: 

  • Sunday was the first time the Steelers had been held to three or fewer points since Dec. 19, 2011. It was also the worst loss (31 points) for the Steelers since Sept. 17, 1989. 
  • The Eagles have held their opponents to 14 or fewer points in each of the first three games for the first time since 1992. And the team has given up just 27 points through those three games, also the fewest since ’92. 
  • They’re one of just two teams in the NFL that hasn’t yet allowed a passing touchdown. The other is Seattle. 
  • The Eagles lead the league in points scored (92), fewest points allowed (27) and point differential (plus-65). 
  • The plus-65 point differential is their biggest through three games since 1980. That was a Super Bowl year.

“Well, we got our butt kicked,” Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “We couldn’t put any points up. Couldn’t get any stops. We have to find a way to get back.” 

So, yeah, the Eagles have been pretty impressive. 

And while Carson Wentz has stolen headlines, the team’s defense has been just as pivotal to its success (see 10 Observations)

“That’s the expectation,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “That’s been the expectation since Day 1. We knew we were going to have to be dominant. We’ve got a lot to improve on, but if we keep improving and keep taking it day by day, we’re going to be fine.”

While Ben Roethlisberger had time in the pocket early during Sunday’s game, eventually the Eagles’ vaunted pass rush got to him. Roethlisberger was sacked four times by the Eagles. He had been sacked just twice total in the two previous games. 

The Eagles also shut down the Steelers’ rushing attack. DeAngelo Williams, who entered Week 3 as the NFL’s leading rusher, had just 21 yards on eight carries. 

From the time defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz arrived to town with Pederson, the defense was expected to change and get better. It clearly has. And it’s taken on the persona of the man in charge. 

“It’s the attitude of our coach,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “We’re always out there, we’re always competing. We’re always feisty, fiery, we always want to make that pay, compete.” 

As the game progressed on Sunday, the Eagles could feel the Steelers’ frustration mounting. By the time the game got deep into the third quarter, the route was on. 

“Absolutely. We made them one-dimensional,” Hicks said. “They couldn’t run the ball. They had to throw the ball down field. Our defensive backs were doing a great job; we were doing a great job in underneath coverage. We made them one-dimensional and when that happens, our defensive line eats. Our defensive line just goes and goes and it is tough to stop.”

The hallmark of a Schwartz defense is the front four getting to the quarterback without needing to blitz. After another slow start, the Eagles’ talented defensive line did its job on Sunday. 

Fletcher Cox had two sacks, while Brandon Graham and Bennie Logan each chipped in one apiece. Cox and Graham each have three sacks through three games. 

“We can still be better,” Cox said. “We can grow. We’re not comfortable. That’s what I think about this team. Nobody is comfortable or patting themselves on the back. We know we can be better. We just have to take this bye week, take a little time off to come back and get ready for Detroit.”

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