Football is truly a team sport. Dan Marino, one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, never won a Super Bowl. Trent Dilfer did. So did Brad Johnson. Marino was on good teams, but never a great team. Dilfer and Johnson won titles because they played with two of the greatest defenses of all time. I'm using extreme examples in this instance, but the point is that players are somewhat defined by their teams. Corey Dillon had issues in Cincinnati, but was a model citizen for the Patriots. A good team can have a strong effect on a player. A good locker room can have a strong effect on a player.
Ernie Sims was a great player at Florida State. That was a top program that featured great defenses. The pressure of being a star linebacker for the Seminoles brought out the best in Ernie. He was then drafted by the Detroit Lions, the worst organization in the NFL at the time. Sims had a solid rookie year. He played on a bad defense (28th in yards, 30th in points), but Sims offered a lot of promise. He played well in 2007. He had a career-high 172 tackles. He started to make plays. Sims had a sack, interception and three forced fumbles. Things looked good for him. The overall defense - not so much. Detroit finished dead last in points and yards (something they would repeat in 2008 and 2009).
Sims' play dipped in 2008. Why? We don't have a concrete answer, but I'm sure playing on such a lousy team and a lousy defense started to take its toll. Good defense requires all 11 players to do their job. When a player doesn't trust the guys around him it can affect his performance. I'm not saying that Sims slacked off, but rather tried to do too much. That lead to sloppy play and a lessened performance.
Let's analyze just how bad the Lions were in Sims' tenure. They were the first NFL team to go 0-16 in a season. The defense was dreadful. Sims was a Lion for 64 games. Only four times in that span did the team hold an opponent to less than 14 points. Sims never played with anyone who had more than eight sacks or three interceptions. It wasn't as if the defense had a lot of talent, but was dysfunctional. They stunk.
We had a down year on defense in 2009 (by Eagles' standards). We still held three teams to less than 14 points. We had a pair of pass rushers notch eight or more sacks. Both of our starting cornerbacks had at least five interceptions.
Sims is getting a tremendous opportunity in Philadelphia. He joins a defense that generally is among the best in the league. He joins a team that expects to win every year and has a terrific track record of success. Sims will have good defensive tackles in front of him. He'll spend most of his time playing behind Trent Cole, one of the most disruptive players in the league. Stewart Bradley will be beside Sims. While the secondary is unsettled, Quintin Mikell and Asante Samuel are good players. Sims is probably going to be fired up by the change in scenery.
I don't think enough people understand the importance of environment in the success and failure of players. I study prospects for the draft every year. I see kids that I just know will be stars actually fall flat on their faces. One of the big culprits isn't lack of work ethic or talent, but simply going to the wrong team. Players can get overwhelmed by losing. Teams that struggle also have a lot of change. That instability means players always have to adjust to new coaches and/or teammates. Bad teams can cause players to develop bad habits.
David Carr was a great quarterback at Fresno State. The Houston Texans drafted him and tried to build their franchise around him. The one thing they neglected to do was build an offensive line for him. Go back and look at some of their drafts. You'll be shocked at how little they did for the line. Carr set some records with the amount of times he was sacked. The beating he took set in some terrible habits and ruined his career as a starting quarterback. Carr is now a solid backup, but he's nothing like the guy that starred in college.
Some fans are convinced that Sims isn't a good player anymore. We only had to give up a fifth-round pick to get him so there is no disputing that his value fell. Sims was a top-10 pick, but never developed into the kind of elite player the Lions hoped for. The guy we want is the one from 2007. Sims played well that year and looked like a player on the rise.
We aren't looking for Sims to come in here and be a superstar. That'll be great if it happens, but what we need is simply for him to come here and do his job. He'll be joining a strong team environment and a place where winning is the norm. I really expect that to have a tremendous impact on Sims. It is going to be really interesting to see how he pans out. We're getting a guy with a lot of talent. We're also getting a guy who's known nothing in the NFL but losing and porous defense. If he left all the bad baggage in Motown and adjusts to his new setting, we might just have a pretty good weakside linebacker.
You've Got To Be Kidding Me!?!
I happened to be at a bookstore the other day. I wandered over to the magazine section and was surprised to see the NFL preview magazines are already out. It seems like they hit the newsstand earlier every year. The magazines are pretty worthless at this point because so much will happen between now and September 1. People want something to read on vacation so the magazines come out early.
I never pay much attention to the magazines, but was curious for some reason. I opened one and saw the NFC East predictions. They had us in last place. I only get bothered when the Eagles are picked first or last. I don't like to see us getting overly praised. That scares me from a jinx standpoint. I don't like last place because I think we're too good for that (since the 2000 season anyway).
I know this team has some question marks, but I just don't see us in last place without some serious injuries popping up. I didn't read the full write-up. I know the team's holes. I understand that some people have doubts. I guess I still don't get the notion that Donovan McNabb's arrival instantly makes the Washington Redskins better than us. This isn't a dig at McNabb. He's still a good player. This is the NFL. One player can make a huge difference if a team is already in place.
Drew Brees led the Saints to the playoffs in his first year. That team had some really good players and Brees played brilliantly. That is the exception when it comes to a new quarterback's impact. Normally, you see more up and down results. Jay Cutler hardly looked like the star that the Bears expected last year. Drew Bledsoe was a star for the Patriots, but couldn't revive Buffalo or Dallas in later stops.
Washington still has plenty of question marks in my mind. That organization has gone for the quick fix for most of the last decade and it has yet to work for them. Getting Mike Shanahan and McNabb is probably the best off-season 1-2 punch they've had, but that doesn't mean it will solve all their problems. The one key that no one really talks about is that we've won without McNabb, both regular and postseason. He's never played for another team. McNabb has done things one way for the last 11 years. Now he's going to have to adjust. We'll see how that goes.
Maybe I'm wrong and we're in for a long year and will spend the season looking up in the standings. Anything is possible, but I just see too much talent on the team. Andy Reid knows how to coach. If he's got the players (and I think he does), Reid puts out a good product.