Maybe They Got a Group Rate on Air Fare? Thoughts on Eagles Interviewing Falcons Trio Updated

Maybe They Got a Group Rate on Air Fare? Thoughts on Eagles Interviewing Falcons Trio Updated

You gotta hand it to the Eagles – they are being economical.
Jeff Lurie revealed his first round of interviews for the club’s opening at
head coach (still feels a little funny writing that), and all three of the
candidates just happen to be working in the same building.

The Birds were granted permission to meet with a trio of
assistants from the Atlanta Falcons during their bye week: offensive
coordinator Dirk Koetter, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, and special teams
coach Keith Armstrong.

• Koetter is the least surprising of the bunch. His name has
become one of the most popular on the market after one year in Atlanta, where
he added more of an emphasis on both the vertical passing attack and the
no-huddle offense. The results are hard to deny: quarterback Matt Ryan just
completed the best season of his career, setting personal bests in nearly every
meaningful category: attempts (615), yards (4,719), touchdowns (32), and passer
rating (99.1) en route to 13 wins. He also led the NFL with a 68.6 completion
percentage.

We wrote about Koetter a few weeks back when Ray Didinger
revealed there is some history with Nick Foles. While the head coach at Arizona
St., Koetter actually recruited Foles out of high school, but Koetter was fired
and Foles uncommitted. However, it’s at least plausible Koetter would be
receptive to working with Foles at this level, who happens to share some basic
attributes with Ryan. That in itself isn’t a reason to hire the guy – can’t say
I would have a problem with it though. He’s worth talking to anyway.

• While Koetter has only been an NFL coordinator since 2007,
Nolan’s big league experience is far more expansive. In fact, he’s been around
professional football his entire life. His father, Dick, enjoyed a nine-year
career as a defensive back, then went on to coach in the league for nearly 30
years, including three in the Saints’ head job. The Falcons are Mike’s seventh
stop as a defensive coordinator, while in between he spent three-and-a-half
unremarkable years as San Francisco’s chief, compiling an 18-37 record between
2005 and 2008. This was his first season in Atlanta, and his unit ranks fifth
in points allowed and takeaways.

Nolan is most often associated with the 3-4 defense, which
he utilized for most of his career, but has stuck with a 4-3 in Atlanta likely due
to the personnel – he’s flexible. His previous head coaching stint is certainly
a black mark, but when he got there, the 49ers had gone 2-14 the year before,
so they were a complete mess to say the least. Then again, his public feuding with
quarterback Alex Smith didn’t help matters, either. It wouldn’t be entirely
fair to judge him based on that experience, but I think I like Nolan better as
a coordinator all the same.

• Armstrong seems a little out of nowhere, but he brings some
local flare to the group having grown up in Bucks County and graduated from
Temple. He’s been coaching in the NFL since 1993, specifically on special teams
from ’97 on. Can’t say we know as much about his qualifications, but apparently
he is generating some buzz around the league, as he is expected to meet with
the Bears as well.

Of the three, Koetter appears to be the real target, but
then there’s no harm in meeting other qualified coaches along the way.
Meanwhile, there is a ton of speculation about certain college coaches, but the
only other confirmed interview on the Eagles’ plate as of this writing is
Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

UPDATE: Looks like Koetter may be off the board before he ever got here.

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

ST. LOUIS -- One nifty little flip by Vernon Fiddler provided a big lift for the Nashville Predators on a rough night.

Fiddler scored with 5:05 left and P.K. Subban had a goal and two assists, powering Nashville to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series on Wednesday.

The Predators lost Kevin Fiala to an ugly leg injury in the second period and blew a 3-1 lead before Fiddler poked a loose puck by Jake Allen in the third.

"They had a little push there," Fiddler said. "We got 3-2 and then 3-3 and the building's rocking. You have to give our guys credit. We just regrouped and went back at them and found a way to get the two points."

It was the fifth goal in 43 career playoff games for the 36-year-old Fiddler, who did not play in the Predators' first-round series sweep against the Blackhawks.

"He's a veteran guy so he's been in these situations before and he stepped up and got us a big goal," Subban said. "That was the toughest game of the season for us and they fought so hard and had so many chances, but we found a way to get it done."

Colin Wilson and Filip Forsberg also scored for Nashville, and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves.

Game 2 is Friday night (see full recap).

Draisaitl leads Oilers to Game 1 win over Ducks
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Adam Larsson scored his second goal of the third period with 4:40 to play, and the Edmonton Oilers blew a two-goal lead in a wild third period before beating the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 on Wednesday night in their second-round playoff series opener.

Mark Letestu scored two power-play goals and Cam Talbot made 33 saves for the upstart Oilers, who seized home-ice advantage from the Ducks with a four-goal final period.

Jakob Silfverberg scored the tying goal with 9:13 to play in regulation for the Ducks, who lost in regulation for the first time in 19 games since March 10.

Larsson scored just four goals in his first 85 games this season, but the Swedish defenseman improbably got two goals in 7 1/2 minutes.

Game 2 is Friday night in Anaheim (see full recap).

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

 

BOX SCORE

This is what the Phillies could look like some day, maybe in a year or two, when the rebuild has moved further down the road and the club is approaching contender's status.

Maikel Franco clubbed three hits, including a grand slam, and Vince Velasquez pitched his best game of the young season to lead the Phillies to a 7-4 victory over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

The win was the Phillies' fifth straight as they inched over the .500 mark at 10-9 and it offered a glimpse of the tantalizing tools of two of the team's most enigmatic young players — Franco and Velasquez. Both players are 24 years old. Both have had individual highs and lows in a Phillies uniform. Both have the ability to be cornerstone talents for the franchise — if they can put together more nights like this one.

"It's a long season and it doesn't happen overnight," said manager Pete Mackanin, acknowledging the ups and downs that each player has had in the early part of this season and before.

It was just last week that Franco was riding a career-worst 0-for-22 slump that dragged his batting average to .145.

On Wednesday night, he stroked three hits — he had two hard-hit singles to go with his grand slam — to push his average to .203, not good but moving in the right direction.

Even as he struggled, Franco continued to hit balls hard and produce runs. He now has 20 RBIs, which is just one shy of the NL leaders. He also has four homers, including two grand slams.

It's no secret that new hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to get Franco to stop pulling off the ball. From Day 1 of spring training, Stairs has had Franco working on driving the ball to the middle of the field. That's just what Franco did three times Wednesday night. His first hit, a single to center in the second inning, set the tone for his night. His grand slam came on a 2-2 fastball from lefty Wei-Yin Chen in the third inning.

"That was Matt Stairs' big rallying cry for Maikel — try to use the big part of the field and not pull everything," Mackanin said. "He still has it in him where he'll pull his head off the ball, but I think with his type of power, he can hit a ball to center field or right field out of the ballpark. Once that sinks in, he's really going to take off. He's starting to look a lot better." 

Two pitches before Franco lined the grand slam over the wall in left center, he lost his helmet while hacking at a slow breaking ball. It was the type of out-of-control swing that Stairs is trying to eliminate. Two pitches later, Franco gathered himself and hit the grand slam with a smooth swing.

That was progress.

And so is this: He's only lost his helmet on a swing one time this season.

"At the time, I just told myself, 'Calm down, relax, don't try to do too much. Just see the ball and put good contact on it,'" Franco said.

"I think last year I lost my helmet like 20 or 25 times," he added with a chuckle. "I'm working on it."

Velasquez is also working on things. He is trying to harness his power stuff and improve his economy of pitches so he can stay in games longer. He'd lasted just four, five and six innings, respectively, while running high pitch counts in his first three starts. He made some improvements in his last outing at New York last week and took another step forward in this one. He pitched 6 1/3 innings, scattered six hits and three runs, walked two and struck out three. The strikeout total was way down from the 10 he struck out in four innings in his first start of the season. But Mackanin was pleased with the results and the improved efficiency. Velasquez threw 97 pitches, 68 of which were strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters and that was important to his success.

"Even though he's not striking people out like we know he can and will, he's using all of his pitches and he got us into that seventh inning, which was huge," Mackanin said. "I think he's trying to pitch to more contact and not trying to make perfect pitches and strike everybody out with perfect pitches.

"I think once he puts that all together, he'll have that total ensemble working for him and know when to pitch soft and when to throw hard. He's making good improvements."

And so are the Phillies as a group. They hit three home runs in the game and the bullpen did an excellent job, especially Joely Rodriguez and Joaquin Benoit, who combined on five outs (see story)

Five straight wins is nothing to sneeze at. The Phillies have suddenly become fun. They go for a sixth straight win Thursday.