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  • Writer's pictureAl Thompson

FUNDAMENTALS WILL MAKE OR BREAK ANY TEAM

Eagles coaches still stress the basics as the Birds get ready for the 49ers and a chance for a spot in the Super Bowl



Eagles special team coordinator Michael Clay. Photo by Andy Lewis

In the waning moments of the Dallas Cowboy NFC-D game against the San Francisco 49ers, a player on each team made mental errors that should never happen at this level.


49ers running back Elijah Mitchell, late in the fourth quarter, only needed to get a first down after getting the ball on a third-and-nine from the San Francisco 43-yard line.


After Mitchel took off, he saw some daylight and after passing the first down marker, continued to run thinking perhaps he could score.


All the 24-year-old had to do was give himself up after getting the first down and Dallas would be forced to use a timeout and effectively win the game for the 49ers.

But Dallas safety Malik Hooker caught Mitchell and shoved him out of bounds. It breathed life into the Cowboys fading chances.


But the game could have been over had he stayed within himself and just followed orders.


The Cowboys got the ball back with 45 seconds left and also made key fundamental mistakes.


Usually reliable tight end Dalton Schultz made two critical errors.


On third and one from the Dallas 15-yard line, with 38 seconds left and trailing the 49ers 19-12, Schultz caught a nine-pass right at the sideline at the 24.


He went to get out of bounds but cut back where Cowboys cornerback Charvarius Ward shoved Schultz out of bounds.


The clock didn’t stop because Dallas’ tight end was not moving forward.

The Cowboys lost precious seconds.


With just 10 seconds left, Dak Prescott hit Schultz with a quick sideline pass 15 yards downfield.


The completion would give Prescott a fighter’s chance with a Hail Mary pass.


But incredibly, Schultz was nonchalant with his footwork as he headed out of bounds and never actually had both feet in bounds.


It was an easy move with his feet to make the catch, but again, fundamentals took the play away and any chance for a miracle comeback.


At Tuesday’s press conference leading up to the NFC Championship Sunday (3 PM) at the Linc, Eagles Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen was asked how much of his preparation and coaching is focused on fundamentals.


“Yeah, it's big,” Steichen said. “That's one of the biggest things; one of our core values is fundamentals. We talk about it a lot. Obviously, you have to practice it…you have to preach it and then go execute it on Sundays.”


Special Teams Michael Clay was asked about his returners Britain Covey and Boston Scott having to make split-second decisions on the field on every play they're involved in.


The two can have an impact on the game in a good or bad way.


Given the magnitude of the game, how does Clay coach them to stay within themselves, but not be afraid to make an impact.


“You never want to be superman out there,” Clay said. “The game is going to come to you. Yes, if you're getting touchbacks, touchbacks, you're itching to get a return, but obviously you've got to take the pros and cons of the whole thing.



Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen . Photo by Andy Lewis.

"The same with Britain being a punt returner, it's tough out there being a punt returner. When he's got an opportunity, get it and go. I try to stress to him, get a first down. If you can get a 1st down every time, it helps out the offense. You've got 10 yards right there.


“But also, it's our number one goal on return game is give the ball to the offense. If the ball is up there 42 yards at a 4.7 hang time, most likely you're not going to get a return. Catch it, we'll live to see another down right there.


“So, staying within themselves, making smart decisions, but when they do give you the opportunity, stay true, be confident, make a big play right there, get the 10-, 15-yard return, and Britain has done a really good job, especially this latter half.


“I think everyone saw after that Tennessee game the confidence of the 20 yards, the 15, the 16 yards, and to the guys on the outside handling those gunners right there, then obviously Boston getting downhill, was it back-to-back weekends where he had 50-plus-yard returns.


"So it's just staying within ourselves, and when they give us an opportunity, let's go out there and make them pay, but let's not do too much.”


Email Al Thompson at al.thompson@footballstories.com.


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