Five Observations: An Eagles Slant To the Playoffs

Tim and I landed in Mobile Sunday afternoon. We missed the first half of the Falcons-49ers game, but after taking a ride on Bass Pro Drive, we found a spot the locals affectionately refer to as Beef’s.

That’s where we took in the second half of the NFC title game, along with the Ravens’ win over the Patriots.

Good service, good food – even for a vegetarian like myself.

Here’s the weekly playoff post – five observations on the postseason, with an Eagles slant.

1. Put this one in the “What was Tom Brady thinking?” category. The Patriots had a 1st-and-10 from the Baltimore 10 with 26 seconds left in the first half. Brady took the snap, couldn’t find a receiver and scrambled for 3 yards. When the whistle blew, there were still 19 seconds left on the clock, and New England had one timeout remaining. If the Patriots had called it right away, they would have had one or two shots to throw to the end zone. If the passes are incomplete, the clock stops anyway. But instead, they tried to get another play off. By the time they got to the line of scrimmage, there were only four seconds left. The Patriots finally called timeout and kicked the field goal. Huge mistake there. How does this relate to the Eagles? Well, c’mon. You all watched this team for the past 14 years. Andy Reid had plenty of good qualities. Clock management was not one of them. We’ll see how much that improves under Chip Kelly.

2. Speaking of Kelly, we saw the Patriots push tempo to the tune of 82 plays. But I wonder what the new Eagles coach thought about Bill Belichick’s decision to punt three times in plus territory. New England punted on 4th-and-9 from the Ravens’ 35; 4th-and-2 from the Ravens’ 45; and 4th-and-8 from the Ravens’ 34. As Tim Livingston of Yahoo Sports wrote about back in November, Kelly often went for it on fourth down in college:

Those fourth down calls epitomize Kelly’s aggressiveness but what the average football fan doesn’t realize is that Chip’s play-calls (the fourth down tries, fake punts, two-point conversions, etc.) are almost always the correct mathematical decision. Like Paul DePodesta and Billy Beane did in baseball, Kelly’s genius comes from exploiting arithmetic that other coaches are too naïve to acknowledge.

Howie Roseman was asked last week whether Kelly’s aggressiveness on fourth down is coming to the NFL.

“We’re ready to embrace anything that helps us score more points and win more games,” he said.

3. We’ve made this point before, but Eagles fans should be encouraged that the Ravens and 49ers are playing in the Super Bowl. Why? Look at their quarterbacks. Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco are playing extremely well and are huge reasons why those two teams are still standing. But would you consider either a top-five QB? Football Outsiders had Flacco ranked 17th in the regular season; he was 25th in QBR. Kaepernick ranked 13th and third, respectively, but he only started seven regular-season games. Kaepernick was selected with the 36th pick (second round) in the 2011 draft. Flacco was selected 18th in 2008. Don’t get me wrong. The easiest way to win in the NFL is with someone like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. But none of those four is playing for the Lombardi Trophy this year. There are other ways to compete. And there’s no set formula. Elite special teams, great defense, a strong running game, exceptional coaching. Those are all factors at play here also.

4. I’m interested to see what the Eagles do at the wide receiver position this offseason. The five primary receivers from last year’s squad – DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper and Damaris Johnson – are all under contract. Maclin is a free agent after 2013. We’ll see what Kelly is looking for, but ideally, I think the offense could greatly benefit from a wide receiver who’s capable of making contested catches and coming down with balls in traffic. Anquan Boldin did that time and again yesterday (and throughout the playoffs). Right now, I’d say the two Eagles capable of making those grabs are Brent Celek and Jason Avant. Celek doesn’t have great hands, and Avant doesn’t have great athleticism. Someone in the Boldin mold, who is a factor in the red zone and can come down with the ball even when he’s not really open, would work well with Jackson. Then again, if Kelly’s focus is speed, speed and more speed, maybe he’ll just roll with the Jackson/Maclin combo.

5. And some leftovers… When Tim and I got on the road in Mobile, we noticed a car with a decal on the back that was simply Bear Bryant’s hat. A classic image, and quite the contrast from the cut-off hoodie of Belichick. Here’s what I don’t get about the cut-off hoodie. Why cut the sleeves off? You’re obviously cold. It’s like the puffy vest. Never understood it. If it’s cold enough where you need the puffy material, don’t you want your arms to be warm too? Again, these are the things that keep me up at night. …Brian Dawkins, like many others watching, sure felt like Brady kicked Ed Reed on purpose. …Did Asante Samuel play a role in David Akers missing the 38-yard field goal? …As one Twitter follower pointed out, the last four teams that the Eagles have hosted in their home opener have gone on to play in the Super Bowl: the Saints (2009), Packers (2010), Giants (2011) and Ravens (2012). The first three ended up winning the championship.

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