Philadelphia Eagles Have Kicking Conundrum
Jan 4, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles kicker Alex Henery (6) and punter Donnie Jones (8) react after a missed field goal against the New Orleans Saints during the first half 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
A lot of concerns were alleviated with the impressive performance put forth Thursday night by the Philadelphia Eagles.
The team’s 31-21 preseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers was never as close as the final score indicates. The first-team Eagles offense and defense dominated the first half, as the Birds took a 17-0 lead into the locker room. The Steelers, who played their starters well into the second half, didn’t get on the scoreboard until a late drive in the third quarter against Philadelphia backups and roster hopefuls.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was solid. The running game was phenomenal, no matter which back – LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Matthew Tucker, Henry Josey or even Kenjon Barner – carried the ball behind a strong offensive line.
The defense finally looked like the unit fans hoped it could be, pressuring the quarterback, stopping the run and getting off the field on third down. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks is becoming a scary-good player, the safety situation seems settled and even first-round pick Marcus Smith seems to be finding his way.
And the kicking game…
So, where do the Eagles go from here?
That’s the biggest remaining question as the Birds head into the final week of preseason play and could be their biggest question mark this season. And that’s not good. While often overlooked, a team’s ability to reliably convert field goal chances into three points and start opposing offenses at their own 20 is a huge advantage.
For the Philadelphia Eagles, this has been a huge disadvantage for a number of years. About three of them. Kicker Alex Henery has simply been average and on a team that strives to be above average, that’s not cutting it.
Last year, Henery was 23-of-28, or 82 percent, the lowest success rate of his NFL career. He was only 8-of-13 on kicks beyond 40 yards and while he was 1-of-2 from beyond 50, it was clear head coach Chip Kelly didn’t trust Henery enough to let him try those very often. Heck, the Eagles didn’t feel safe beyond 40 yards, either.
Now in the preseason, Henery has done little to calm the fears around him. He missed – badly – a 47-yard try against New England. He missed – badly – a 31-yard chip shot against the Steelers.
That won’t cut it in today’s NFL and when you add the fact that Henery’s kickoffs are rarely deep enough to cause a touchback in a league where other kickers routinely boot balls through the back of the end zone, well, it’s fair to wonder how the kid still has a job.
Many thought the Eagles would draft a kicker to challenge and replace Henery. They didn’t, instead bringing in undrafted free agent Carey Spear, who was simply not very good.
Now, they’ve traded for rookie Cody Parkey, an Auburn product whose 69 touchbacks led college football in 2013. But Parkey has struggled with accuracy, converting only 15-of-21 field goals, including making just 1-of-4 from 50-plus yards.
Parkey was at Lincoln Financial Field and in uniform on Thursday night, arriving just in time for the game. He had a shot at a few kickoffs and an extra point, but curiously was not given an opportunity at that 31-yard kick in the fourth quarter. What was perhaps a vote of confidence for Henery could end up being the last one Kelly extends the former Nebraska Cornhusker.
In a way, Eagles fans are a spoiled bunch. We were treated to years of David Akers, years of knowing that with the game on the line, when crunch time arrived, all you needed to do was get the ball to the 35-yard line. Akers would take care of the rest.
We’ve also seen what happens when you can’t count on kickers. As Andy Reid told us after the Eagles lost a wild card game to the Green Bay Packers, we can all count. That, too, was Akers.
It was also Henery, last year, missing a 48-yard field goal in the first half of a wild card game against the New Orleans Saints. The Eagles lost that game, 26-24. Oh, what might have been.
For the Eagles, the choice now is simple: Do you go with what you know and accept what Henery gives you, or do you bet on the unknown and hope for greater returns?
No matter which way they go, this is not an area Super Bowl contenders want to be questioning.