The NFL's Final Four brings high-powered offenses, franchise-carrying quarterbacks and the profiles that suggest points will be flying in the Conference Championship Weekend ahead. The foursome also begs the question: Are offenses significantly ahead of defenses in the league circa 2017?
Look at the numbers: Atlanta averages 33.9 points per game. Green Bay scores an average of 28 points per game, with New England a tick behind at 27.9 points per outing. Pittsburgh, which has battled injuries for much of the season, has averaged 24.8 points per game.
Maybe in the end the defenses will win out, but the leading characteristics of the four finalists are based on scoring points, which isn't exactly the narrative from last year when Carolina and Denver headed into Super Bowl 50 carrying the mantles of great defenses.
Was 2015 the norm in the NFL, where the rules have changed so much over the years to favor the offenses - defensive holding, for example, has been enforced, receivers have been protected by the rules and quarterbacks can only be hit from the chest to the knees - and the points per game have increased only slightly over the years, from an average of 20.7 points per team per game in 2007 to 22.7 points per game per season?
What seems to be consistent for winning teams in the NFL is having great play at the quarterback position. There are outliers, to be sure, most recently the play of Denver's Peyton Manning last season when the Broncos won the Super Bowl fueled by one of the most dominating defenses in recent years. But for the most part, the teams that win control the football, minimize giveaways and get great play at quarterback.
"Defense is still going to win for you," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said shortly after he was hired in Philadelphia last year. "You need to get stops. But you also know you're usually going up against a pretty darn good quarterback. Every stop is magnified. Sometimes, it's when you get the stops that is important."
The Eagles' goal in this offseason is to add good football players to this roster in every phase of the game. The Eagles want to "build around Carson Wentz," as Howie Roseman said a couple of weeks ago and there is no question the Eagles need to bring in players to help an offense that ranked 16th in the NFL in points scored in 2016, 22.9 points per week. That's exactly 11 points fewer per game than league-leading Atlanta. The Eagles need to score points. They need to score touchdowns in the red zone. They need to keep drives alive. They need to stop with so many pre-snap penalties. They need to catch the football better. On and on it goes.
has not distinguished himself much at all in three NFL seasons as a defensive tackle, playing in a total of 15 games, 14 of them in 2015, with the Eagles and San Francisco. When Hart comes back to the NovaCare Complex in the spring, he will try to make a name for himself as - an offensive tackle. The Eagles gave Hart some work late in the season on the scout team at offensive tackle and liked what they saw, enough that they're going to see what he's got in 2017 on that side of the football. Hart has length at 6-6, he's a very good athlete and he's got long arms. He was a first-team all-state offensive tackle in high school. Add Hart to the "project" department that includes Dillon Gordon, a converted tight end from LSU, working with line coach Jeff Stoutland.
You never know how it's going to work out, but the signing of offensive lineman Josh LeRibeus could pay off for the Eagles. LeRibeus fits into that Stefen Wisniewski category - a veteran who can play multiple positions - for the future. He's a former third-round draft pick of the Redskins who plays guard and center and he's got some size at 310 pounds.
Brian Dawkins learns on February 4, the night before Super Bowl LI, if he makes it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Dawkins is one of 18 finalists, all of whom are invited to Houston for the pre-Super Bowl festivities.
For those paying attention early in this offseason: The Eagles have a presence at the East-West Shrine Game this week and then will have all of their personnel contingent in Mobile, Alabama next week for the Senior Bowl practices. Let the whispers begin!!