In football, there is scheme, and there is execution. The Philadelphia Eagles had the first part sewn up for a brief moment in their 28-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Monday night, but the execution, as it was with most things the Eagles have tried this season, left a lot to be desired on a creative kick return that should have worked.
The return happened late in the third quarter, after Drew Brees' 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham put the Saints up by what was to be the final score. On the return, cornerback Brandon Boykin stood ready to receive on the left side, while receiver Riley Cooper was literally lying in wait on the other side of the field.
The plan was for Boykin to flip the ball to Cooper, "Music City Miracle"-style, and have the play go for a touchdown. And it would have worked, but for the fact that Boykin's pass to Cooper was a forward lateral. Thus, Cooper's 94-yard return was called back by a penalty that took the ball back half the distance to the goal line, and the Eagles took over at their own 3-yard line.
That's not the way Eagles special teams coach Bobby April drew it up.
"Stuff like that can be pretty exasperating, obviously," April said after the game. "We worked on it. I have to make sure we do it right and I guess it was forward from what everybody says, the refs made the right call. I have to help the players do better on that.
"That was a huge play. Geez, we just scored, we go down there, we knock it loose around the [20-yard line]. That's huge. But we have to do more things to win the game."
For Eagles head coach Andy Reid, it was just one more personification of a season in which very few plans have gone as intended.
"It was clear that we threw it down the field, so you can't do that," said head coach Andy Reid. "We have to get that accomplished. We thought we had a read on something there and we gave it a whirl."
Ah, the soft bias of low expectations. At least the Eagles can be assured that everything else about the play was impressive. Scheme, blocking, the return ... yeah, it all would have worked. Perhaps you don't want to have a cornerback throwing the ball next time, though Boykin did complete 33 passes as a high school quarterback.
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"I do think that they're getting better," April said of his special teams. "I do think they're getting better. We still have a lot of hill to take, but I think we're progressively taking it week to week and hopefully we can be a real factor in helping us win games. We've really been scratching trying to get that done and we've got to come out next week and try to do it again."
The next time the Eagles can do it again comes when they face the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. It should be a very interesting afternoon for two teams that stand at 3-5.
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