The Seahawks and Broncos will play in the Super Bowl tonight. Are there any lessons to learn from the Super Bowl teams that could help the Eagles get back to the big game?
It may seem as Peyton Manning appeared and changed everything for Denver, but that's not really the case. You have to remember that they were a playoff team with Tim Tebow at quarterback back in 2011 (somewhere Skip Bayless is smiling). Manning instantly fixed the offense, but the team did have a good core already in place.
John Elway knew he had some good pieces, but the team wasn't good enough to compete for Super Bowls. He needed a quarterback who could consistently throw the football. Out went Tebow and in came Manning. Elway has continued to tinker with the roster through free agency and the draft. Elway hasn't hit any home runs outside of Manning, but he has done a good job with veteran additions. Wes Welker, Shaun Phillips, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and Terrance Knighton have all been key players in the Broncos’ Super Bowl run this year.
The Broncos have also done a terrific job with player development. Wide receiver Eric Decker was a third-round pick who has become an impact receiver. Tight end Julius Thomas was a fourth-round pick who had one reception in his first two years. This season he caught 65 passes and scored 12 touchdowns. Malik Jackson is a former fifth-round pick who has six sacks this year and has become a disruptive pass rusher. Chris Harris was undrafted, but worked his way into being a solid starting cornerback. None of these guys were household names in college, but the coaching staff spent time working with them and the players got better each season.
The Seahawks were 7-9 in each of Pete Carroll's first two seasons. They went 11-5 in 2012 before having a dominant season this year and going 13-3. You can see where this group has been a work in progress.
Seattle has a juggernaut defense, but it wasn't build overnight. Defensive lineman Brandon Mebane got there in 2007. Linemate Red Bryant was drafted in 2008. Waves of starters came from the draft classes of 2010, ‘11 and ‘12. Seattle had the patience to build the defense and not try to throw something together over night.
There were three significant moves that really have built the Seahawks into something special. Back during the 2010 season, Carroll traded a fourth-round pick and a conditional pick for running back Marshawn Lynch. Since arriving in Seattle, Lynch has been the heart and soul of the team. Then in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Seattle chose cornerback Richard Sherman. He is now the best corner in the NFL and is one of the few really impact defensive backs in the game. The move that put the Seahawks over the top was taking Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He isn't a dynamic passer, but is a great leader and is the right guy for that offense. He's able to throw the ball downfield effectively and then make clutch throws at key moments. It also doesn't hurt that he can run around and make plays with his legs.
Carroll and general manager John Schneider have done a great job of building up the roster. They haven't been afraid to take chances. Not all the moves have worked out, but they have hit on enough big moves to keep Seattle heading in the right direction. The tough part is going to be handing out big contracts to all these young stars.
The Eagles loaded up on veterans in 2011 and quickly found out that wasn't the way to go. They focused on the draft the last two years and have been building a strong nucleus because of that. Be careful when looking for quick solutions. It really helps to be patient when putting together a top notch team.
BALANCE CAN BE OVERRATED
Seattle had a great defense in 2012. The offense was pretty good, but clearly a step behind. So they had to focus on offense in the offseason, right? No. Three of their first five draft picks were defensive players. They added free agents like Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel and O'Brien Schofield. They didn't ignore the offense. Seattle traded for Percy Harvin, hoping he would be an impact player for that side of the ball. Injuries have limited him greatly this year. The Seahawks didn't panic. They trusted Wilson and Lynch to carry the offense and to give their young players a chance to develop.
Denver had a top-five offense and defense in 2012 so there was no group that was desperate for help. That said, the defense was aging and needed some youth. The Broncos spent three of their first four draft picks on defense, but they did use their second-round pick to add a running back. Starting guard Louis Vasquez was added as a free agent. The biggest move of the whole offseason was the signing of receiver Wes Welker. Elway gave Manning as much firepower as possible.
With regards to the Eagles, the defense needs fixing, but that doesn't mean you ignore the offense. If you have a chance to add impact players there, go for it. There is nothing wrong with being markedly stronger on one side of the ball.
SITUATIONAL PASS RUSHERS HAVE VALUE
Neither Avril nor Bennett started for the Seahawks, but each guy had eight sacks. Clinton McDonald is a backup defensive tackle. He plays in a lot of passing situations and had 5.5 sacks for the year.
Malik Jackson can play inside or out for the Broncos. He only started five games, but had six sacks. Shaun Phillips was brought in as insurance in case something happened with Von Miller, which it did. That forced Phillips to start 10 games. He had 12 sacks on the year. Without Phillips there as insurance, the Broncos defense would have been in a world of hurt.
The Eagles had mixed results this year with situational rushers.
LUCK IS IMPORTANT
Too often luck has a negative connotation. "They just got lucky."
There is an old adage that luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
Seattle was lucky that they found Richard Sherman in the fifth round. That's not an insult. The opportunity was there. Seattle took Sherman and has done a great job of developing him. Sherman wasn't great when they took him or else he'd have gone much earlier. All 32 teams had multiple shots at Sherman and all but Seattle passed on him.
Denver got lucky that Peyton Manning came available when he did. They took a big risk in signing him. Manning had come off multiple neck surgeries and his arm was major question. The Broncos decided the risk was worth it. If the Colts had kept Manning around, there is no telling who would be the quarterback of the Broncos. They would be a much different team without him.
Both Seattle and Denver acquired impact players without having to give up much for them. The opportunity came along and both teams made the right move when other teams were backing away or afraid to pull the trigger.
The Eagles got lucky in finding
GREAT TEAMS WANT TO BE GREAT
When Seattle's defense gets a team down, they don't relax. They sense blood in the water and take things up a notch. When the Broncos get hot on offense, they don't get to 24 points and slow down. They want more.
The Eagles showed flashes of great play in 2013. The offense might pile up 300 yards in a half. The defense might shut someone out for a half. But the Eagles only played one complete game, the blowout win over the Bears. The team wasn't able to sustain greatness in the other games. There are various reasons for that, but I think one is the will and discipline to do what it takes to be great.
How often did the Eagles look terrific for two downs on defense, only to see the opposing team overcome third-and-18? That drove all of us nuts. The talent was there. Something happened with the execution on third-and-long situations.
I think the Eagles players should look at the Super Bowl teams and see that those guys didn't settle for good enough. They truly wanted to be great. They were greedy.
It would be great to see the Eagles get back to the Super Bowl next year. Whether that happens or not, I do feel like the team is headed in the right direction. If the Eagles can make the right moves this offseason, they'll put themselves a step closer to being a true Super Bowl contender.