Super Bowl 50 is over and the Broncos are world champions. Denver will soon get to enjoy a big celebration parade. Meanwhile, fans of the other 31 NFL teams will be sitting at home wondering what their favorite team needs to do in order to finish the postseason on top of the league.
So what can the Eagles learn from this year's champions? Before I share some thoughts, allow me to share this paragraph I wrote two years ago:
"The truth is there's no secret formula to winning a Super Bowl, and that's what's great about the NFL. This isn't the NBA, for example, where it's more-so a matter of having the best players. In the NFL the parity is significant and there are so many variables in play. The way I see it, the best strategy towards building a championship winner is to take the simple advice of the following mantra: "Whatever you are, be a good one." ... Championships are won on the macroscopic level. The Eagles aren't just a safety or a pass rusher away from winning a championship. Adding those pieces will certainly help, yes, but it's bigger than that. They key to success is about consistently making strong personnel moves: hitting big on draft picks, signing undervalued players in free agency without shelling out ridiculous contracts, finding a diamond in the rough here and there, etc."
With that out of the way, let's dive in.
It's no secret that the Broncos won the Super Bowl because of their top-ranked defense. The Broncos became the first team in Super Bowl history to win the big game with less than 200 yards of total offense. Denver's defense carried the team for the entire season. The team managed to win games despite the struggles of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler.
So surely this Denver win is another confirmation of the "defense wins championships" mantra, right? Well, yes and no. Yes because the defense literally won a championship for them. No because teams typically can't be this bad on offense and still win a ring. People will point to how Seattle's defense helped them win a ring in 2014 and there's no denying that's true. They also got big contributions from offense and special teams, however.
But perhaps the Broncos' win provides hope for the Eagles. It's currently hard to project how successful Philadelphia's offense will be under an unproven head coach in Doug Pederson. We do know, however, that the Eagles have a really good defensive coordinator. Jim Schwartz has overseen top seven units in his last three jobs as a DC.
Wade Phillips was obviously a huge key to Denver's title. It's interesting how Schwartz finds himself in a similar situation to the Broncos' defensive coordinator. Schwartz, like Phillips, didn't work out as head coach. Schwartz, like Phillips, spent an entire season out of a job before getting another chance as a defensive coordinator. It won't be easy for Schwartz to replicate the extent of Phillips' success. There's some hope for him, though.
Not only does Schwartz have a strong resume, but more importantly he has a good defensive foundation to work with in Philadelphia. Fletcher Cox is a special young talent. Vinny Curry is a beastly pass rusher and will be here for years to come after signing a contract extension. Brandon Graham is a good pass rusher and he might excel even more as a 4-3 defensive end again. Bennie Logan is another good, young defensive lineman. This group might not be the likes of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, etc. but they're a very strong unit.
The Eagles obviously are obviously missing some pieces in comparison to Denver's defense. The linebacker situation needs to be sorted out. Can Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks bounce back to playing their best football? There are also concerns in the secondary. Who is the starter next to Malcolm Jenkins with Walter Thurmond set to be a free agent? Just how good can Eric Rowe be?
There's potential for this unit. The Eagles defense ranked No. 2 overall in DVOA at one point during the 2015 season, as hard as it is to believe. That was with Bill Davis at defensive coordinator. It was also with the Eagles having to be on the field all the team due to Chip Kelly's inept offense.
Remember how the Broncos got blown by a final score of 43-8 in the Super Bowl two years ago? Since then, the identity of their team has changed. They slowly started to build the devastating defense that they have today. They acquired significant contributors in free agency such as DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, and Aqib Talib to pair with home grown talent such as Miller and Derek Wolfe. Give John Elway a lot of credit for nailing his personnel moves.
The Eagles clearly need more talent. The problem is it's hard to feel good about them acquiring what they need. Howie Roseman's track record is mixed at best. He's not the worst personnel guy ever. But can you really feel confident saying he's the man to get the job done? Since being promoted to general manager in 2010, the team has failed to win a playoff game. They've also failed to acquire a franchise quarterback. It's to say EXACTLY what Roseman was and wasn't responsible for during the last six years, but where is the overwhelmingly evidence that suggests to him being the solution? There's more to suggest he could be part of the problem.
Roseman isn't even the only issue with the Eagles' front office. They're currently undermanned. Philadelphia is relying on a number of temporary personnel to fix the organization. It's hard to feel confident about their current setup. It's up to them to prove the doubters wrong.
What a weird situation. The Broncos won the Super Bowl with one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game ... but Peyton Manning clearly hasn't been his peak self in a long time. So does Denver's win suggest the Eagles can move forward with just about any quarterback? Probably not. This is more the exception than it is the rule. Denver getting Manning in the first place was an incredibly rare situation.
First of all, I already outlined above why it's going to be hard for the Eagles to totally replicate Denver's defense. Second, getting a legitimate franchise quarterback is still obviously key in this league. Look at all the success the Eagles had during the Donovan McNabb days early in Andy Reid's tenure. Then look the at the mediocrity the Eagles have been mired in since.
Acquiring a franchise guy is obviously easier said than done. Some might suggest Sam Bradford is the answer. I can't agree with that argument, especially at his projected price tag. He simply didn't show enough to be the long-term solution. Even if you believe in his ability, Bradford's injury history is just too big too ignore.
If the Eagles are really going to harken back to the Reid era, which they seem so intent on doing, one would think they would like to draft a new franchise passer and groom him like they did with McNabb. They'll also need to surround him with the right talent: offensive line, running game, pass catchers, etc. But the quarterback is the cornerstone of the foundation for success.
Gary Kubiak really isn't some special head coach. Prior to landing in Denver, he was 61-64 in eight years with the Texans. Houston went 2-2 in playoff games under him and they never made it past the divisional round.
A lot of people are rightfully skeptical about the Eagles' decision to hire Doug Pederson. It's hard to feel like Pederson is going to be a special coach. It's honestly hard to really feel any certain way about him due to his lack of an extensive track record. But maybe Pederson doesn't need to be a special coach. If anything, as Tommy Lawlor points out, Kubiak winning the Super Bowl just proves that the Eagles made a great hire!
So former QB for team becomes coach and wins Super Bowl. Suddenly Eagles decision to hire Doug Pederson makes complete sense.— Tommy Lawlor (@lawlornfl) February 8, 2016
It's that simple ... right?
I don't want to say the Broncos' Super Bowl run was a fluke, because it wasn't. They absolutely deserved the Lombardi trophy this year. I just wonder how sustainable their model is. Peyton Manning is probably going to retire (or at least move on), which might actually be a good thing for the team. Brock Osweiler is going to be a free agent. Who is the quarterback going to be? Is Denver's defense going to be able to sustain their level of success? A number of Broncos players are going to be free agents this offseason. For what it's worth, the oddsmakers don't expect Denver to be a dynasty. They only have the seventh best Super Bowl odds for next season despite being the winners this year.
Therefore, the Eagles shouldn't completely try to mimic the Broncos. Denver's defensive approach is something worth modelling, but Philadelphia needs to strive for higher standards on offense, especially at quarterback.
Of course, the x-factor in all of this is the Eagles' front office. If they prove to be as suspect as they seem, that undermines the entire operation and the team will be doomed to failure until significant changes are made in that department. So who's excited for the 2016 season!