Ten Observations: An Eagles Slant To the Playoffs

Like many of you, I spent 12-plus hours in front of the TV this weekend, watching what turned out to be a great divisional round.

Here are 10 observations from the four games, many of which have an Eagles slant:

1. In one game, the Denver Broncos had more defense/special teams touchdowns than the Eagles had all season. Trindon Holiday took a punt 90 yards for a score for the first touchdown of the weekend. He later had a 104-yard kickoff return to start the second half. On the other side, Ravens cornerback Corey Graham intercepted Peyton Manning and took it 39 yards for a TD. In the next game, Sam Shields intercepted Colin Kaepernick for a 52-yard touchdown. In all, four non-offensive touchdowns in four games. During the 2012 season, the Eagles had ONE non-offensive touchdown – a Damaris Johnson punt return. Only two teams –  the Raiders and Lions – had fewer (0). We know about the issues with turnovers on offense, but the defense was tied for a league-worst 13 takeaways. And the Eagles almost never had a field-position advantage. Special teams has to be a focus for the next head coach.

2. It was 3:23 p.m. when Reuben Frank broke the news that the Eagles had interviewed Brian Billick for their head-coaching position. The timing was almost too much to handle. Billick was in the middle of calling the Falcons-Seahawks game for Fox. As I mentioned on Twitter, if there’s a drinking game associated with Billick-called games, I hope there’s a rule for every time he starts a sentence with “I’m not so sure that…”. And when I mentioned that Billick’s interview lasted nearly eight hours, I got a variety of responses like this one:

Now, broadcasting and coaching are two different things. But if Billick ends up being the guy, the one-liners among Eagles fans who were in front of their TVs yesterday will be plentiful.

3. Last week, we played the Russell Wilson what-if game. Andy Reid has admitted that he was high on Wilson. Adam Caplan mentioned over the weekend that the Eagles tried to move up for Wilson. Of course, Seattle ended up taking him 13 spots ahead of the Birds, who selected Nick Foles. But there’s another what-if scenario involving a quarterback that played over the weekend: Peyton Manning. Many will remember the Los Angeles Times report last March, indicating that Reid wanted to jump in on the Manning sweepstakes, but Manning didn’t want to be in the same division as his brother. ESPN’s Adam Schefter recently looked at Manning’s “failed suitors” and included the Birds among his six teams. So, what if the Eagles had landed Manning? Would they have made the playoffs? They certainly would have won more games, but then again, Manning can’t play cornerback. Would Reid be coming back for a 15th season? Just another factor to consider as the franchise heads in a new direction.

4. The Ravens ran 74 offensive plays on Saturday. Torrey Smith touched the ball just four times (three catches and a run). Yet he had a huge impact on the game, coming up with a 59-yard touchdown and a 32-yard touchdown. During the regular season, Smith’s catches, on average, came 13.1 yards downfield. That ranked third in the NFL. The Eagles have a vertical threat of their own, but they were unable to get him the ball downfield this season – partly because of defenses playing their safeties deep, partly because of a leaky offensive line and partly because of inconsistent quarterback play. DeSean Jackson’s average length of reception this year was 10.37, the lowest number of his career and 16th in the NFL. Last year, it was 12.66. The year before, 15.23. The Eagles need to find a way to get big plays out of Jackson in 2013 and beyond.

5. I don’t know who first mentioned it, but the Colin Kaepernick/Randall Cunningham comp works for me. Kaepernick measured in at 6-5, 233 at the combine. Cunningham was listed at 6-4, 215. In an electrifying performance, Kaepernick set an NFL playoff record (for a QB) with 181 rushing yards against the Packers Saturday night. He got it done with his arm too, fitting the ball into tight windows all game long. Between Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the future at quarterback in the NFL is bright. And watching Kaepernick, I couldn’t help but wonder how Cunningham would look in this era with a coach like Jim Harbaugh, a line like the 49ers’ and a system that fully utilized his athleticism.

6. Not sure where Marty Mornhinweg watched this weekend’s games, but I’m guessing that when the Falcons had the ball in the red zone, went with a split backfield and Jason Snelling scored on a shovel pass from 5 yards out, the former Eagles offensive coordinator stood up and started a slow-clap. Of course, that play should look familiar to the Eagles not only because they’ve run it so much, but because the Falcons scored the same way against them earlier this season.

7. Count me among the many who were confused by the Broncos taking a knee at the end of regulation. Manning and the offense had the ball at the Denver 20 with 31 seconds remaining. They also had two timeouts. Don’t you have to at least try to take a shot there? It was fitting that the next day, the Falcons had the ball at their own 28 with 31 seconds left and drove to the Seattle 31 on two plays. They kicked the game-winning field goal with eight seconds left. The situations were not exactly the same. Denver and Baltimore were tied. Atlanta was trailing. But you get the point. Have to take a shot there.

8. It’s 2013, and coaches still have to commonly race down the sideline to get referees’ to call timeout. We saw it from Pete Carroll in the Seahawks-Falcons game. Don’t we have the technology to come up with a better method than this? Same goes for spotting the ball. Can’t we put a chip or something in a football that automatically tells us where the line of scrimmage is, rather than having the official arbitrarily spot it? These are the things that keep me up at night.

9. So, what Super Bowl storylines are setting up? If the 49ers and Ravens win, we’ll have to deal with two straight weeks of Harbaugh family stories. Don’t get me wrong. It’s amazing that two brothers could potentially face each other for the title. But that might be a bit much. I don’t think anyone would complain about 49ers-Patriots in New Orleans. That Sunday night game was one of the most entertaining matchups of the year. Falcons-Ravens would take us back to the 2008 draft class when Matt Ryan was picked third and Joe Flacco 18th. And Falcons-Patriots wouldn’t be bad either. It’ll be tough to top this past weekend, but hopefully we still have a classic or two left.

10. Random notes to close it out: When they introduced the Punt, Pass and Kick winners yesterday, there was a kid from Hoover, Alabama who had the exact same haircut as the kids from the MTV show Two-A-Days. For those unfamiliar, the series followed the Hoover High football program. Highly recommended NetFlix viewing this offseason if you’ve never seen it. …There was so much skepticism last month about whether Chip Kelly would be successful in the NFL, but you see elements of his offense in the 49ers and Patriots, two of the last four teams alive. …And finally, I can’t believe it took me this long to discover @PhilSimmsQuotes. Pure genius.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Report: Brian Billick Interviewed With Eagles

The Eagles interviewed Brian Billick on Monday and consider the former Ravens coach one of  the leading candidates, per Reuben Frank of CSN Philly.

According to Jason LaCanfora, the meeting lasted eight hours and the Eagles left “very impressed.”

Billick, currently an analyst for Fox, has been out of the game since 2007. The 58-year-old compiled a record of 80-64 in nine seasons as head coach of the Ravens, which included a Super Bowl championship in 2000.

The Ravens made it back to the playoffs three more times under Billick but never got past the divisional round. He was replaced by John Harbaugh following a 5-11 season in ’07.

Billick served as offensive coordinator of the Vikings from 1994-98. While offense was his specialty, it was the Baltimore defense that carried the team during much of his tenure.

Billick has been a staunch defender of Andy Reid’s, and has maintained that the Eagles will not find a coach better than him. He took his argument to another level back in late December with Mike Missanelli.

“There are going to be some excellent candidates for the Philadelphia Eagles job that have all the right credentials…the guy you get — and he may very well be exactly what the Eagles need — I’m telling you that with all that success, I’m telling you that at the end of the day, however you want to measure it, he’s not going to be play-for-play, game plan for game plan, evaluation for evaluation, a better coach over a 14-year period of time than Andy Reid,” Billick said. “He may have two or three or four Super Bowls and if that’s the outcome he should be admired for it, but I’m telling you that as someone who measures that on a daily basis that [he won't be better than Reid.]”

Now, there appears to be a chance that he could be the successor.

The Eagles promised to leave “no stone unturned” at the onset, and have stayed true to their word. It appears that they are in a new phase of the coaching search after early pursuit of college coaches Chip Kelly, Bill O’Brien and most recently, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly.

“There is no question we spent a considerable amount of time and effort looking at who we thought were the best collegiate candidates for our head coaching job. We did so knowing that there was a remote chance that these coaches would leave their current posts,” the Eagles said in a statement. “We understood that going into the process, but we wanted to leave no stone unturned while trying to find the best head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. We have no regrets about the effort we made in that direction and we will continue to proceed as planned in our search.”

Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman and Don Smolenski are scheduled to meet with Jay Gruden on Monday and Bruce Arians on Tuesday. On Saturday they sat down with Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who is reportedly a leading candidate for the job.

With all the focus on the top assistants and college coaches, it looks like they snuck in an interview with Billick as well.