A weekend of great football reminded us of the most important reasons Seattle, Green Bay, New England and Indianapolis are still standing: The principles of football are the basics of the game.
How far away are the Eagles from being an elite team? On talent alone, hey, probably not very far at all. Perhaps the Pro Bowl means little to you in terms of a measuring stick, but add placekicker Cody Parkey to the game (he's going with both New England's Stephen Gostkowski and Indianapolis' Adam Vinatieri playing in the AFC Championship Game) and that makes seven Eagles in Arizona next week and, well, that says *something *about the talent base on this roster.
Winning in the NFL is more than talent, of course, and the playoffs remind of that very premise. The weekend's Divisional Round was remarkable football. With that, some things seen and learned and the comments as they apply to the Eagles ...
- On turnovers, a category that failed the Eagles in 2014: Three of the four winners were either even (Green Bay) or in the plus (Seattle, New England) on turnover ratio, while Indianapolis was at minus-1 (although it could be argued that Andrew Luck used his second interception as a quasi-punt, throw-it-up-for-grabs-and-see-what-happens play). It's so essential. It's so critical. And while the play of the quarterbacks for every winning team was exceptional during the weekend, it also helped that the offensive lines played outstanding football. While Eagles fans are focused on the defense and the improvement it must make in 2015, and while the chatter is directed so much at the position of quarterback, don't forget about the offensive line. Injuries derailed a strong group for the Eagles in 2014. The offensive line, looking at 2015, must get back to its dominated ways. Whether that means good health or more personnel, the Eagles must take a big step forward for next season up front.
- The Dallas Cowboys put together quite a 2014 season, ending with a tough loss in Green Bay on Sunday. There are bound to be a lot of changes for the Cowboys for next season, but as long as Dallas has that offensive line together and quarterback Tony Romo is still capable, the Cowboys are going to be very tough to beat. Give that team credit for the way it played on the road all season. The offense is in good shape for 2015, with the obvious questions of retaining wide receiver Dez Bryant and running back DeMarco Murray. The defense will add some pieces after an overachieving season.
- Three of the four winners this weekend won the statistical comparison on third-down efficiency and the fourth team, Seattle, still dominated because quarterback Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes on third down.
- On the Bryant play and the decision to reverse the call from a catch to an incomplete pass: The rule is what the rule is, and the reason it hasn't been changed is because the NFL hasn't figured out, even with a lot of conversation, a better rule. Bryant, who is just a great receiver, made the mistake of trying to do too much on the play. Had he simply caught the pass and come down with it, Dallas would have had a first-and-goal play at the 1-yard line. But Bryant tried to reach for the end zone, even though he didn't need to do so, and cost his team a first down and, likely, the lead. The lesson: Know the situation. Just make the catch, as spectacular as it would have been.
- Where were all of the big-time pass rushers this weekend? Offensive coordinators did a fantastic job of neutralizing players like DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller and Clay Matthews and Elvis Dumervil. Great coaching makes such a difference in the postseason.
- The four winners in the red zone this weekend were a combined 9 of 13 in touchdown efficiency. Indianapolis (3 touchdowns in 4 trips), New England (3 of 3), New England (2 of 3) were great inside their opponents' 20-yard line. Seattle had one touchdown in 3 red-zone trips, missing out late in the third quarter when Wilson was sacked and the Seahawks kicked a field goal, and then kneeling to run out the clock inside the Carolina 20-yard line to end the game on Saturday night.
- Nothing new to report on the personnel position the Eagles are planning to fill. Absolutely nothing will be leaked with Chip Kelly running the show. He knows what he's looking for and he will keep looking until he finds the right fit.
- I will put the Eagles' front seven defensively right up there with what I saw this weekend. It's a very good group that figures to improve for 2015 as Beau Allen takes another step and as Taylor Hart works his way into the rotation. It's a huge offseason for Marcus Smith, too. Can he get some quality snaps in his second season? A big question mark, though, is inside linebacker. DeMeco Ryans is working hard to come back from his Achilles tendon injury, but how much can the Eagles count on him to come back to play at a high level and stay healthy? Can Najee Goode become a full-time player? Is Travis Long someone the Eagles think can develop? What is the situation with Trent Cole? Even with the questions, the Eagles can be pretty special up front next season. I love the young defensive line and the depth there.