Rating the Rumor: Eagles OC Frank Reich a 'possibility' for Titans

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Rating the Rumor: Eagles OC Frank Reich a 'possibility' for Titans

Just when it seemed the Eagles might make it through the 2018 coaching carousel relatively unscathed, a new rumor links offensive coordinator Frank Reich to the Titans’ vacancy.

Then again, due to the timing of the Titans’ head coaching search, they may not even have the opportunity to talk to Reich at all.

Reich was first named “a possibility” for the Titans’ job by longtime beat writer Terry McCormick. However, because the organization did not request an interview during the first week of the NFL playoffs, by rule, a meeting cannot occur until after the Eagles’ season is finished. That could be as many as three weeks from now, depending on the outcome of the conference championship on Sunday.

Ideally, the Titans will have filled the job by then.

Reich himself shot down the story on Tuesday, though that was easy given the circumstances, with the Titans unable to reach out at present.

“Right now, myself, our staff, are interested in one thing only, so, that's all,” Reich said. “I have no time (for that). When I tell you I have no time for anything to consider anything else other than how we're preparing a game plan to beat the Vikings, that's really all we're concerned about.”

If the Titans are a little late to the game, that’s because a somewhat surprising postseason run gave Mike Mularkey two additional weeks of life. Once eliminated from the playoffs over the weekend, the sides parted ways, at a time when most front offices were already finalizing coaching searches. Of the seven clubs with openings, two are filled, and three more are reportedly spoken for.

In other words, the Titans are left with a smaller pool of candidates to choose from. That could help explain why Reich could be gaining some momentum after there was no reported interest in the first round of coaching interviews.

While Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo were among the star candidates this offseason, Reich flew under the radar. However, the reality is he probably warranted more consideration. From that standpoint, the Titans’ supposed interest makes sense.

Some observers may even see a potential Reich departure as beneficial for the Eagles. DeFilippo’s contract is up at the end of the season, and it’s believed if he isn’t hired as the head coach of either the Titans or Cardinals, he’ll leave for an offensive coordinator job regardless. If Reich goes, one of the league’s bright, young assistants could move into his role.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, it probably is.

DeFilippo is reportedly still in the running for the Cardinals job (for which the Eagles can grant permission for a second interview next week even should they advance), and may be ready to move on regardless, to someplace where the title of offensive coordinator comes with play-calling duties. As for Reich, his availability is largely tied to whether or not the Eagles make it to the Super Bowl, unless the Titans were willing to wait until February to have so much as a conversation.

The Titans are already lining up interviews with other candidates, notably Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel. And should the Eagles lose on Sunday, you can certainly understand why any of Reich, Schwartz or DeFilippo would be on the short list. Yet, for the moment, their candidacy for this particular job appears to be in direct proportion to the outcome of the NFC Championship game.

Rating the rumor: Sorry, Titans – you snooze, you lose

Mike Lombardi backtracks on Doug Pederson criticism — sort of

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USA Today Images

Mike Lombardi backtracks on Doug Pederson criticism — sort of

Having previously stated Doug Pederson is unqualified, former NFL executive Mike Lombardi is finally walking back his criticism of the Eagles’ head coach. Kinda.

It only took a 13-win season and a trip to the NFC Championship game for Lombardi to admit he might’ve been mistaken.

Even now, Lombardi doesn’t sound entirely convinced about Pederson, who’s a strong candidate for Coach of the Year.

Lombardi garnered attention back in September after questioning Pederson’s credibility.

“Everybody knows Pederson isn't a head coach,” Lombardi said during one of his regular NFL podcasts for The Ringer. “He might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I've seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL.”

The comments grew beyond meaningless banter when Lombardi was tied to Jim Schwartz, and a report stated the Eagles’ defensive coordinator was actively working to undermine Pederson — just days before the start of the regular season.

It all seemed like a bunch of nonsense at the time, and the entire narrative over whether Pederson is the right person for the job hasn’t aged well. So four months and an Eagles win over the Falcons in a divisional playoff game later, Lombardi was finally ready to go back on his podcast and say he was wrong.

Well, sort of.

"I admit, I’m wrong. Okay, Doug Pederson was way better than I thought he was going to be in terms of his ability to lead that team. I think Jim Schwartz is a tremendous defensive coordinator. I think he deserves a lot of credit here. But I thought (Pederson) did a really good job with Nick Foles (Saturday). So all you Philly fans give me all this crap about, ‘Give Doug Pederson his due,’ yeah, okay, I was wrong. He’s a better coach. Now he’s going to have to do it again this week, and we’ll see how that is, but for me, I think when you win a playoff game, and you beat a team that you’re an underdog to, and you beat (Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan), and Nick Foles plays well enough, I think you deserve it. I think I have to admit — hey look, I think I was wrong in terms of how far I went with Doug, I’m not sure how great of a coach Doug is, but I was wrong in terms of how far I went with it."

Lombardi almost immediately praises Schwartz, before going on to say Pederson needs to prove himself again in the conference title game, he still doesn’t know how good Pederson is and the actual problem with his comments was the extent of his criticism, not necessarily that he was critical of Pederson in the first place.

Again, the Eagles won 13 games this season, earning the top playoff seed in the NFC, a postseason bye and home-field advantage throughout the tournament. Then they defeated the reigning conference champion Falcons and are now one victory away from a trip to the Super Bowl. He absolutely should win Coach of the Year. Even last season, Pederson won seven games as a first-year head coach with a rookie quarterback, so the idea he was ever wholly unprepared, as Lombardi suggested, was always a laughable take.

It’s safe to say Pederson has put any and all doubt to rest. There’s no need to qualify that statement or assign credit to somebody else. Pederson is good at his job. That much is a fact.

Look, almost everybody had concerns about Pederson when he was hired in 2016 and coming into this season. Perfectly reasonable. What Lombardi said in September was as preposterous as it was inaccurate, and anything less than saying he was completely, 100 percent incorrect isn’t backtracking nearly enough.

How Eagles' O-line bullied Falcons into submission

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AP Images

How Eagles' O-line bullied Falcons into submission

The Eagles' strategy wasn't to simply run the football against the Falcons. The idea was for the Eagles' offensive line to pound the Falcons defense into submission.

It worked.

Everybody expected the Eagles to lean on the ground attack in their playoff game Saturday. Most felt it necessary to hide or protect Nick Foles. Some thought it was time to unleash workhorse running back Jay Ajayi. Strong wind and freezing temperatures were factors as well.

The Eagles had something else in mind. They felt they could exhaust the Falcons.

"We wanted to wear them down physically," right tackle Lane Johnson said.

It's not an innovative concept. Hand the ball to a pair of 220-plus-pound backs 24 times behind an offensive line that features three Pro Bowlers and defenses tend to erode. Defensive linemen tire. Linebackers and defensive backs lose their courage.

Plus, the Eagles were fresh off a bye week and players extra rest for nearly a month with a playoff spot and seeding wrapped up. The Falcons had to scrap and claw just to get into the tournament, then fly from Atlanta to Los Angeles for a game, back home and up to Philadelphia in a span of eight days.

Johnson thinks the Falcons were "gassed" by the end. Probably cold, too. Similar sentiments were shared throughout the Eagles' locker room.

"If you really look through the game," Ajayi said, "you could tell that their defense got worn down early, and then in certain drives where we kept going at them, they got worn down in those drives."

Ajayi was referring to two second-half drives that went for a combined 26 plays and took almost 14 minutes off the clock. Though both possessions fell short of the end zone, the ensuing field goals proved to be the decisive points in a 15-10 Eagles victory.

Ironically, the majority of the damage done on those drives came via Foles and the passing attack.

“I knew we could run the ball just from the first half, what we were able to do," Johnson said. "We were able to constantly wear them down, grind them down, then hit them with some play action on the back end.”

Ajayi carried the ball seven times for 49 yards in the first quarter, while Blount raced to the pylon for the Eagles' lone touchdown in the second. But by the end of the evening, the duo had only averaged 3.0 yards per attempt.

The steady barrage of runs still helped to soften a Falcons pass rush that recorded just one sack and four quarterback hits in the contest. Foles looked increasingly comfortable as the game progressed, consistently stepping up into clean pockets and throwing darts to keep the chains moving.

“I think that we have really good players who ended up getting the job done," center Jason Kelce said. "We’ve been pretty solid in pass blocking all year long with the guys that we have and with the coaches who have put us in good situations.”

The Eagles relied heavily on screen passes, perhaps to make Foles' job easier. Regardless, it had the added benefit of getting their linemen out in space, where they could really punish Falcons linebackers and defensive backs.

No play was more emblematic of the way the Eagles' O-line manhandled the Falcons than a 32-yard screen to Ajayi where left guard Stefen Wisniewski erased two defensive backs in succession.

“We’re all playing our best football right now,” Wisniewski said. “I got a lot better since last year. [Left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai] is playing a lot better. Lane is playing at an elite level. Kelce is playing at an elite level. [Right guard Brandon Brooks] is playing at an elite level.

"It’s just a great group of guys playing well.”