If Seattle's road to a Super Bowl win in 2013 is the blueprint, and if defense really is the side of the ball that carries the day to an NFL championship in a score-happy league, how close are the Eagles to having a D that is capable of carrying the day when the record-setting offense isn't on its game?
After a draft that saw the Eagles address defense with five of their seven picks on the heels of a free-agency period in which the defense added safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Nolan Carroll, it's fair to say that side of the ball continues working toward a complete overhaul since the completion of the 2012 season.
"We're trying to be an elite football team, and that doesn't happen overnight," said general manager Howie Roseman after the 2014 NFL draft. "We feel we're going in the right direction."
Think about it: Only safety Nate Allen remains in place on the defense from the 2012 campaign. Fletcher Cox, a rookie defensive tackle in a 4-3 front in '12, is now a "five" technique end in the 3-4. DeMeco Ryans was the middle linebacker in the 4-3; now he's an inside linebacker alongside Mychal Kendricks - a SAM linebacker in the 4-3 - in the team's 34 front.
The Eagles are realistic about what is called "the process." It didn't happen immediately when Bill Davis came in and took over the job of defensive coordinator last year, and bringing in seven players who figure to have a chance to make a difference on defense in 2014 isn't a guarantee of anything.
But there are plenty of reasons to believe in Davis, and in a coaching staff that did a fantastic job last year of improving players in the new system in every phase of the game. You can look at young defensive players like Cedric Thornton and Kendricks and Allen and without reservation say they improved leaps and bounds last year over the previous season. Heck, veteran linebackers Ryans (most defensive snaps in the NFL last year) and Trent Cole (8 quarterback sacks in the second half of '13) were key producers as the defense limited teams to 21 points or less in nine games as the Eagles won the NFC East with a 10-6 record.
In the aftermath of a draft that produced all kinds of emotion and continues to be graded before the players have stepped on the field, the Eagles are immediately in the business of player development. The rookie class is already at the NovaCare Complex taking part in the team's offseason conditioning program ahead of this weekend's Rookie Camp. The grades on the draft? Nobody on the team much cares about outside opinions. The Eagles did their homework, they trusted their evaluations, and they moved up and down and all around the draft to select the players they wanted.
And now we find out just how good the rookies will be in this system. The coaches have a chance to work with them in person for the first time and to put them in the position in which the players have the best chance to succeed.
We have a good expectation of what the offense can be. Head coach Chip Kelly's first year produced franchise records in points scored and yards gained, and the Eagles led the NFL in rushing yards and explosive (plus-20 yards) plays. Adding Darren Sproles and two receivers in the draft, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, welcoming back wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, and retaining wide receiver Riley Cooper provides ample options for quarterback Nick Foles.
The defense is the side of the ball that gains the most from the offseason. There is a lot of room to grow for the D, so measure the improvement the Eagles make on the progress the defense sees from the infusion of the players added in free agency and the draft.