In the biggest game of the NFL season, a meeting of the best offense against the best defense does not happen frequently. In the 48 Superbowl meetings of the AFC and the NFC, this year marked only the fifth time such an entertaining marvel occurred. And after the smoke cleared to the 43-8 shellacking of the Denver Broncos by the Seattle Seahawks, the trend of a defense triumphing is now 80%, or four out of five such meetings. Defense trumps Offense.
And somewhere, while watching the Superbowl, the wheels of Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly are turning. Slowly, deliberately. Despite comfort with the offensive side of the ball, Chip Kelly is a great student of the game of football. What he witnessed today was no different that what any of us saw in Superbowl XLVIII. What he learned from the game today, is something we will speculate about. But the obvious conclusion is spelled out in the undeniable trend.
Why is this important? Well, the off-season of the NFL begins the perennial tasks of breaking the team down to what it does well and what it does not do well. From that, coaching staffs address the needs of the team: players, positions, planning. And finally they execute the plan.
In 2013, the Eagles were in a situation where the shopping list exceeded the budget and the supply. The team was transitioning from a passing offense to a running offense. Meanwhile, the defense was transitioning from a 4-3 9-tech scheme which placed far too much responsibility to the safeties, towards a 3-4 scheme that would allow the safeties to give greater emphasis to the passing game. In the midst of this planning and the difficult implementation, the team had to decide which players would be able to convert to the new schemes. It was clear that in the 2013 draft and the free agency moves of the Eagles, that the team’s focus on defense was merely to shore up the defensive backfield and acquire a nose tackle until a drafted rookie was able to asume the role.
But 2014 is a different situation altogether. The Eagles offense is fairly decided, with the only serious question mark remaining for the team is over the status of their wide receivers: Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper.
The defense is another matter altogether. While very young up front, the team relied upon players on their roster to meet their needs for 2013. From the conversion of Trent Cole to outside linebacker, to Fletcher Cox to Defensive End, to bringing in long shot Kenny Phillips with so many questions about his knees, the defensive scheme of Billy Davis dealt with the reality of the situation by creating a bend but don’t break type of defense.
But the team and the fans have a taste of post season, and success, now. The team must take every step to ensure the positive momentum from 2013 continues on. To do so, the Eagles must improve in all facets of the games – but focus intensely on defense.
This is not to say that the team does not have it’s share of defensive standouts, nor of big plays. But the team must become stronger in the front seven, to eliminate the chance of a passing team like the New Orleans Saints from sneaking out a win by dumping their hopes on a surprise running attack. Running plays give offenses many options, which is why the Philly defense must be designed to stop the run.
The proliferation of the passing game has placed the offense into an advantage if the quarterback can get the ball to the receiver. Simply countered, the Eagles have to do a much better job of getting to the opposing quarterback. To do so, they must consider bringing in depth and competition anywhere in that front seven.
And finally, the team has to address the need to stabilize our safety situation. Whether via draft, free agency, or outright trade similar to the DeMeco Ryans acquisition, the eagles need to get lasting quality to support against both running offenses and passing plays.
If the Philadelphia Eagles want to move to the next level, they simply need to look at the Seattle Seahawks. Despite all the bravado and claims about the Denver Bronco offense, it was the Seattle Seahawks defense who led the team to victory. That team played superbly at all eleven positions.
Ignoring the defense this year would be very similar to watching Dominique Rogers-Cromartie face and attempt to tackle a receiver down-field with the ball. Nobody wants to see that.. trust me.