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Wild weekend

Posted Jan 14, 2013

Exciting playoff games played while coaching searches continue

JACKSONVILLE – Another week, another critical Jaguars search.

That’s the Jaguars’ reality – that as the NFL this past weekend trimmed the postseason from a very good eight to an elite four, new Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell began the process of trimming his head coaching list to an elite one.

We’ll take a look today at the names being associated with the search – a list that may nor may not currently include the Jaguars’ fourth permanent head coach – but first, we’ll look at the four games we just saw on a weekend that again proved perhaps the best of the NFL season.

Beginning Saturday, we saw three classics and a relative clunker, with the Ravens rallying historically and improbably, the 49ers introducing the NFL world to a rising star, the Falcons and former Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith averting a long offseason and the Patriots...

Well, the Patriots just looked like the Patriots. Again.

What to make of the weekend? Many things:

1. The Broncos’ defense wasn’t what we thought they were.  Blame Peyton Manning all you want – and his last pass of the game was as bad a postseason throw as I’ve seen him make – but the Broncos led by seven with a minute remaining. That defense played too well all season not to close it out.

2. The Ravens likely will struggle Sunday. It looks like they’ll have to win a shootout. It’s tough to win in Foxboro that way.

3. Colin Kaepernick is a star. It still remains to be seen how long he can stay healthy playing as he does, but for now, it’s hard to pick against the way the 49ers’ offense is playing. It’s hard, too, to say there’s a defense left in the postseason good enough to shut down San Francisco’s balance. The only one might be.. well, San Francisco’s.

4. The Packers need to rethink how to stop the 49ers. This may be jumping the gun, but Saturday looked like a case of one team being better and the other having no solution. The Packers are going to be contenders with Aaron Rodgers, but the 49ers have the look of a team that’s going to be good. Green Bay needs to spend time this offseason figuring out how to defend them.

5. The Seahawks are here to stay. The NFC West will be brutal next year. The 49ers and Seahawks look like two teams that are only getting better, and they’re already really good.

6. The Falcons will have trouble against the 49ers Sunday. The Seahawks dominated the second half in Atlanta, and did it while playing an East Coast game for a second consecutive week. The 49ers are better than Seattle, and should be better rested.

7. The Texans must improve the secondary. The Texans are really good, but they got exposed in the secondary late in the season. Matt Schaub’s not elite enough on one side to make up for a secondary that struggles too much against elite teams on the other.

8. The Patriots will be tough to beat – until the Super Bowl. After Sunday, it’s tempting to say the Patriots are the favorites. And then you think about that December game in Foxboro against the 49ers and you remember the 49ers aren’t intimidated by the Patriots.

The final thing we can make of the weekend, though, pertains to the Jaguars, and relates to the process Caldwell is currently going through.

As he searches for a head coach, quarterback undoubtedly will be prominent in the discussion, and after watching the games this past weekend, it seems likely the conversations will be notably different from conventional wisdom.

That’s because conventional wisdom among Jaguars followers, casual observers and just about anyone who follows the NFL is there is no answer this offseason to the Jaguars’ quarterback situation. There isn’t one in free agency, the theory goes, and there is no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in this year’s draft.

Perhaps that’s true.

At the same time, a look at this weekend suggests this view may be a bit shortsighted, because of the eight teams playing this weekend, only one -- the Falcons – obtained its quarterback in the Conventional Wisdom way of taking a “can’t-miss” quarterback in the Top 5.

The Falcons selected Matt Ryan No. 3 overall in 2008, and have built around him, but consider the other conference semifinalists. The Patriots drafted Tom Brady in Round 6 in 2000, and the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson in Round 3 this past season. The Texans traded for Matt Schaub in 2007 and the Broncos acquired Manning as a free agent last offseason.

The Ravens drafted Joe Flacco No. 18 overall in 2008, but he hardly entered the NFL as a can’t-miss guy, and the 49ers selected Kaepernick as very much a project player in the second round in 2011.

Aaron Rodgers, the Packers’ quarterback, may be the prototype in the NFL right now. The Packers drafted him 24th overall in 2005.

This is not to say there’s a player of Manning’s stature available as a free agent this offseason and there’s no way to know if a player of Kaepernick’s ability is available in the second round this season, either.

But no teams in the drafts that included Wilson, Kaepernick or Brady thought those players would be elite, either. There’s no formula for finding a quarterback, just as there’s no can’t-fail blueprint for piecing together a roster.

You target a player, you believe in your plan, and as this past weekend’s games proved yet again, sometimes those plans produce success far greater than many believed possible.

Beginning today, we’ll provide a league-wide coaching tracker here, and quickly, we’ll take a look at the candidates being mentioned with the Jaguars:

* Keith Armstrong, Falcons special teams coordinator. There are those who champion special teams coordinators as potential head coaches because they are used to dealing with the entire roster, and because they are largely responsible for their own units. Armstrong is considered by many the best candidate among the league’s special teams coaches, having interviewed this offseason with Chicago, Kansas City and Philadelphia. Because the Falcons are in the NFC Championship Game, he can’t interview again until after next weekend.  

* Jay Gruden, Bengals offensive coordinator. He was a hot candidate last year, and is hotter this season. He reportedly interviewed with the Cardinals Thursday, with the Chargers on Sunday, and he reportedly will interview with the Eagles Monday. There are reports that he will interview with the Jaguars on Tuesday.

* Mike McCoy, Broncos offensive coordinator. McCoy, like Gruden, is one of the bigger names on the market. He has interviewed with the Cardinals, Bears and Eagles and has an interview scheduled with the Chargers. He is now free to interview because the Broncos lost on Saturday, and the Cardinals reportedly plan to make a big push for McCoy this week.

* Greg Roman, 49ers offensive coordinator. There are many who believe Roman the favorite for the Jaguars’ job. That’s partly because he was Caldwell’s college roommate and mostly because he’s considered one of the NFL’s better young offensive minds. Like Armstrong, he can’t interview until after the conference championship games next week.

* Brian Schottenheimer, Rams offensive coordinator. This was the first name to surface in the search, and the Jaguars reportedly have requested permission to interview him. His offenses have finished 25th and 23rd in the NFL the last two seasons, but Mike McCarthy’s offense finished 32nd in San Francisco in 2005 – the year before he was hired to be the head coach in Green Bay. You don’t hire head coaches based on how their offenses or defenses finished the year before. You hire them based on how you believe they’ll fare as a head coach.

* Mel Tucker, Jaguars defensive coordinator. The team reportedly will interview Tucker this week, and while some have speculated the interview because of the Rooney Rule or out of loyalty to Tucker, Caldwell has no prior relationship with Tucker. Tucker is widely considered a viable head coaching candidate, and the interview is about considering all worthy candidates. Tucker might be a long shot, but you don’t know how an interview process will play out until it plays out.

Click here for the latest updates on the NFL’s head coaching and general manager searches

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