Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Reggie Wayne is an elite Pro Bowl receiver. Dallas Clark is one of the most productive tight ends in recent history. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are one of the great pass rushing duos in recent history. Several of those guys could be in the middle of Hall of Fame careers. In short, the Colts are loaded with special players. The Saints lack the elite talent that the Colts have, but the Saints were the better team and they won the Super Bowl.
Putting together the best team does not mean having as many stars as possible. You need guys that function well together. You need players that do their specific jobs and do them well. Both teams had great years. The Colts had a few blowouts, but won a lot of tight games en route to a 14-2 season. They seemed to find a way to win each and every week. The Saints were dominant at times and really blew you away. Remember how bad they made the Patriots look in the Monday Night game? New Orleans had a couple of comeback wins mixed in, but really outplayed the competition most of the year. They outscored teams by 169 points in the regular season. The Colts outscored opponents by 109 points.
Neither team had a super-busy offseason last year. The Colts focused on the draft, as they always do. They also had quite a few young guys really emerge for them this year. How many casual fans knew who Charlie Johnson, Pierre Garcon, Dan Muir, Antonio Johnson or Clint Session was prior to November? This is why I always talk about our own guys stepping it up. Macho Harris, Quintin Demps, Moise Fokou, Mike McGlynn and Antonio Dixon could be a lot more important to our future than most people realize.
The Saints had a mixture of moves. They added cornerback Jabari Greer and safety Darren Sharper as name free agents. They pulled Anthony Hargrove off the scrap heap. He was out of the league in 2008. Young guys like Tracy Porter, Robert Meachem, Carl Nicks, Jermon Bushrod and Remi Ayodele all emerged into good starters or key players.
Notice that neither team had a Washington-like off-season where they made splashy moves left and right. The Colts have had a stable roster for years and they make tweaks every year, but rarely go after other NFL players. The Saints were coming off an 8-8 year, but had built up the core of the team in the last few years. They felt it was a matter of time until things started to work. They also made one critical coaching move. They hired defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Think about those moves. A new assistant coach comes in. You add a couple of free agents. You get young players to emerge. That is what took a team from 8-8 to 13-3 and Super Bowl champs. Keep this in mind as we head into the preseason. You don't need the biggest names. You need the right players.
I wrote a couple of weeks back that I thought the Eagles needed an impact player. I do stick by that. We've been building up our roster since 2006. We can't quite seem to get over the hump. This is when you go for one major impact player, if the right guy is available. Do not make a big move for the sake of doing it. That is shortsighted thinking. Be aggressive, but smart.
Some other thoughts from the game:
• Both teams had outstanding middle linebackers, Jonathan Vilma and Gary Brackett. Boy did we miss Stewart Bradley this year. The good news about his ACL injury is that it happened early on and he will have almost a full year to get ready for training camp.
• Both teams also had outstanding centers, Jonathan Goodwin and Jeff Saturday. We had a good one in Jamaal Jackson, but unfortunately his injury in the Denver game really hurt us. I don't know if we win both of the Dallas games with him in the lineup, but I absolutely underestimated what his loss would mean to this team.
• If we do get to the Super Bowl next year hope for a pick-six. Three of the last four winners have returned an interception for a touchdown.
On The Job Training
Prior to the promotion of Sean McDermott last summer the last time the Eagles went and hired a true rookie coordinator was a guy by the name of Jon Gruden back in 1995. Brad Childress was a coordinator for a long time at the college level prior to joining our coaching staff. That's not exactly the same thing, but he knew how to run an offense.
Gruden took over the offense in 1995 after being a position coach with the Packers. He was bright-eyed and full of all sorts of interesting ideas. Despite Gruden's gifted mind, the team gained fewer yards and scored fewer points than the year before. Having ideas about what to do and then actually trying to implement those ideas are two different things. Problems will arise. One of my favorite sayings is that ""you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs"".
There were personnel changes from 1995 to 1996. The arrival of Irving Fryar was the biggest move. Gruden also knew what he was doing this time around. He had learned on the job in 1995 and it showed in the results we posted. 1996 was a totally different story. We finished in the top nine in both points and yards, a major jump from the previous season.
The defense this past year was 12th in yards allowed, a respectable finish. We were 19th in points allowed. That isn't good. You can bet that is the area where McDermott will focus most of his attention. He needs to go back and review where the points came from. Was it long drives? Was it long plays? Why did we have so many red zone breakdowns? The issues at free safety and middle linebacker had a huge impact on the situation, but I'm sure that McDermott isn't happy with everything he did either. That's true for all coaches, let alone rookie coordinators.
I think McDermott did a good job last season. I expect him to be better in 2010. He will be able to review what he did this year and make adjustments, whether that is scheme or use of personnel. He will know what to do better next season when problems arise. The addition of senior assistant/defensive backs coach Dick Jauron will help. He can offer suggestions to McDermott and also should help us to have better secondary play next season.
There really isn't much pressure on McDermott. All he has to do is live up to the legacy of Buddy Ryan, Bud Carson and Jim Johnson, three of the best defensive minds of the last 35 years. Oh yeah, helping us to win a Super Bowl or two is also on the to-do list. That doesn't sound hard at all.
Off To A Good Start
We're all ready for the off-season player moves to begin, but that can't happen for a few more weeks. The Eagles are doing what they can to get better right now. I know hiring Jauron, Bobby April and Phil Savage isn't exciting news, but these are the kind of moves that can be huge down the road. Jauron has proven to be a very good assistant coach during his time in the league. April is arguably the best special teams coach in the league. Savage had some struggles in Cleveland, but he did great things in Baltimore. He was part of a personnel department that drafted at least three Hall of Fame players (Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis). Think about that before you dismiss his ability to help us with the 2010 draft.