Sep 19, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman prior to the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lincoln Financial Field. The Chiefs defeated the Eagles 26-16. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Carefully: Why Eagles Must Not Try to Replicate Seahawks

Feb 2, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll (middle) places his arms around team owner Paul Allen (left) and general manager John Schneider (right) after Super Bowl XLVIII against the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Now that it has been just around 48 hours since Sunday’s Super Bowl, the magnitude of the Seahawks dominance over the Denver Broncos has finally settled in entirely. What Seattle did to their opponents was as impressive a dismantling as I can remember ever seeing on such a stage and I’m convinced if the two teams played 10, 100, or 1000 times over, the Seahawks would win every time. Their 53-man roster was too skilled, dynamic, and determined within their own philosophies to lose to an inferior group of players that just happened to have Peyton Manning. The collective talent and dedication to their message made Seattle unstoppable once they got through the NFC Championship game against the 49ers.

Once Sunday’s demolition officially concluded, every fan of any team not called, “The Seahawks’ was racking their brain as to what moves their own team could do to reach their level. Why wouldn’t one be jealous of Seattle? Their roster seems almost unfair. Their core of key players is almost entirely homegrown, they have been able to trade for elite talents such as Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin, and somehow they had the salary cap flexibility to add free agent luxuries heading into this past season. From all the sports talk radio and message board fodder I’ve read the past couple of days, if your team isn’t targeting six-feet and taller corners, linebacker-sized safeties who can move, and a front four that collapses lineman like a garbage compactor they might as well give up.

The Seahawks are as close to a perfect roster as one has seen over the past few Super Bowl winners. Unlike the Ravens after last season, who jettisoned several playmakers from the team that captured the title this time last season, Seattle looks like they could be contenders for the better part of the next decade. However, just because their roster appears to be perfect does not mean every team in the NFL should try to construct their team like a mirror-image. The Seahawks roster, an undertaking that was set in motion (for the most part) prior to the 2010 season was constructed with a message and a philosophy that was exclusive to the Seattle brain-trust. General Manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll decided on a path to success that they felt could yield them a championship in a matter of years. By not wavering on anything, from the type of players they targeted to the style of play they utilized, the Seahawks were able to progressively build upon each year’s accomplishments. They reinforced their message incessantly, they involved the fans, they made it so their players’ primary focus and dedication was to being a Seahawk. Through three seasons of building, with some luck in the draft and free agency, Schneider and Carroll’s approach paid off and the juggernaut that took the field Sunday night was complete.

Feb 2, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor (31) celebrates his interception against the Denver Broncos with teammates during the first half in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Make no mistake, Seattle probably would have beaten any team in the NFL with their performance at the Super Bowl. On the surface of Sunday’s game, it was a showdown of the top offense against the top defense in the NFL. Beyond that, it was a matchup that was destined to have the Broncos at a substantial disadvantage from the opening snap. A team geared to pass the ball underneath and have their receivers make plays against the strong-tackling, extremely physical Seattle defense was a recipe that was never going to benefit the Broncos. They did not respect Manning’s ability to throw the ball downfield and took their chances that Denver was going to try to use the same rub/pick action to get their receivers the ball in space. Sure enough, from the first huge hit by Kam Chancellor on Demaryius Thomas, Denver’s attack was rendered almost useless and it was easy pickings for the entire Seattle defense. The NFC was superior to the AFC this season. I cannot think of one team, maybe the Colts with a healthy Reggie Wayne, that could have actually put constant pressure on the Seahawks. As long as the Seahawks made the Super Bowl, they were going to beat any opponent that the AFC had to throw at them.

While I mentioned earlier that I thought the Broncos could not beat the Seahawks no matter how many times they played, I do NOT find that to be the case with some other teams in the NFC. The 49ers went to Seattle and were as close to winning there as they were to winning the Super Bowl the year prior. The Cardinals, who missed the playoffs, beat the Seahawks in Seattle during the regular season. The Rams are on the upswing, the Packers are still a threat, even the Bears could give Seattle problems. Then, there is the Eagles.

In an appearance with Rob Ellis and Anthony Gargano on WIP Afternoons, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman discussed how to get his organization to where Seattle was.

“When you look at what Seattle did throughout the course of the season, you just have a tremendous respect for that football team and the way they’re built, I think they did things the right way – they built through the draft, then they supplemented with free agents who fit their scheme.”

While this is far from breaking news, it’s what the Philadelphia GM said regarding trying to emulate the Super Bowl Champs that gave a better idea of how the Eagles are going about their business.

“When you’re chasing teams like that, you’ve probably already missed the window…You know, it’s a copycat league, so now everyone’s going to go into the draft and moving up these big corners with length. We tried to do that starting last year, those were the kind of defensive backs we were looking for. … One of the reasons we were so excited about hiring Coach (Chip) Kelly is, we want to be at the forefront of what we’re doing and have people follow us, as opposed to being at the back end of it because when you are on the back end of it, it may be already too late or those (prospects) are going to be overvalued right now, as opposed to finding something there that you can take advantage of.”

This is the type of statement one should want to hear from his or her team’s general manager. Roseman acknowledges the success of his counterpart, but by no means does he acknowledge how he achieved that success as the only way to do so. The Seahawks are the envy of every fanbase in the NFL, deservedly so. However, big defensive backs and a strong run game are not the only way to put together a potentially dominant team.

Just because the Eagles want to go about building a contender with their own message and philosophy does not mean they should not utilize certain principles that the Seahawks did to field a winner. In fact, Philadelphia’s direction bares some similarities to Seattle’s path to the Super Bowl.

Dec 8, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson (65) celebrates a quarterback sneak for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Lions 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The most important thing the Eagles are doing that the Seahawks excelled at was honing in on the type of player they want to shape their evaluation process. With few, albeit notable exceptions, the Seahawks roster is riddled with long, athletic, strong players. On both sides of the ball, the emphasis on size and length across the field was evident whenever watching Seattle. Some of the most important players on the team were on the (relatively) shorter side, notably Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, and Bobby Wagner.. However, they were able to mask their height deficiencies while still reaping the benefits of their supreme athleticism and awareness. They were able to afford having a few players on the shorter side at important positions because everyone around them was bigger and stronger than what used to be considered ‘the norm’. The shortest player (s) on the Seahawks were 5’10″ and most of the roster is above six-feet tall.

One of Chip Kelly’s first snippets of sage advice when it came to trying to hone in on the type of player he was interested in was for from earth-shattering from the supposed ‘guru’ from Oregon.

“We want taller, longer people because bigger people beat up little people,”
Despite the simplicity of this approach, the Eagles under Andy Reid almost went out of their way to try to win with smaller players. The level of athlete in the NFL is so advanced at this point that the bigger players are starting to become as fast as skill players were 10-15 years ago. While Percy Harvin showed us that elite speed is still a thing with slightly smaller players, the constraints of the NFL field restrict some of that type of athlete’s advantage. Having a defense or offense with above average size and speed at most positions and a few players with elite speed and explosiveness mixed in seems to be the desired balance of the successful teams in the NFL. A player like Brandon Boykin can succeed in the Eagles secondary, even last year’s, because of having the rest of his secondary be as tall as Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. Boykin has fantastic football IQ and his athleticism almost makes up for how short he his. However, if the rest of the Eagles secondary was Boykins height or even a little taller, it would be much easier to pick on the deficiencies of each short defensive back.
Much like the Seahawks, the Eagles cannot afford to be afraid to draft certain types of players. Recently, especially on the defensive side of the ball, some of the best players around the NFL are ‘cautionary’ cases. There have been a handful of premiere players at the NFL level in the last few seasons that were criticized around draft time due to a checkered past. Obviously, there is a line that every organization must draw in the sand when it comes to the character of the players they want to represent their team. That being said, being afraid to draft a player with some potential character issues is cutting oneself off to some top-end talent. Back in the 2012 draft, the Seahawks shocked some analysts when they tabbed West Virginia pass-rusher Bruce Irvin with the 15th overall pick. Irvin was an athletic freak with sky-high potential, but had several off-the-field issues that had many hesitant to spend a first round pick on him. We all hear about the slam-dunk Seattle hit on with Richard Sherman (5th round pick), but even a player like Bruce Irvin in the first round is a leap-of-faith. NFL.com’s Mike Mayock had a good take on the selection.
“This might be the most natural pass rusher in the entire draft. He’s only 245 pounds, he’s got an explosive get-off, and he’s an explosive player, but there are red flags off the field. Pete Carroll has never been afraid of taking on a problem child.”
After an eight sack rookie year, Irvin had just two in 2013. However, the Seahawks had also brought in two free agent pass-rushers in the offseason to supplement their pressure packages. This situation combined two of the ideals that has made Seattle, and can make the Eagles a championship-caliber team. Irvin helped the team immensely as a rookie, justifying the team taking a chance on a player with character issues. They also realized they had a chance to bring in more dynamic pass-rushers during the offseason and were not afraid to take snaps away from a 1st round pick. Much along the same lines of the philosophy that made Russell Wilson their starting quarterback, Seattle is all about playing the best players, regardless of their stature.
Chip Kelly’s emphasis on competition throughout the Eagles depth chart was more than apparent in 2013. A rookie, Bennie Logan, unseated a free agent acquisition in Isaac Sopoaga when it became clear the first-year player had more value to last year’s Eagles. Philadelphia spent a lot of money on free agent tight end James Casey to play opposite Brent Celek. However, when Zach Ertz was available early in the 2nd round, Howie Roseman and Kelly saw a chance to add a potentially elite player at an impact position and drafted Ertz. Casey is a good player who held a strong value to the team last year. Ertz is a potentially great player who probably was more valuable to the team in 2013. Philadelphia will probably have to eat some money in the form of a cap hit if they want to part ways with Casey. That said, Ertz was one of the Eagle’s top receivers by the end of the season and will be a cheap weapon for the next few seasons.
The point in all of this is for the Eagles, and any team with championship aspirations for that matter, is to adhere to the message and philosophy of your team and not fall slave to the players on the roster. Seattle has been able to use every resource at their disposal (free agency, draft, trades) but it’s not as if they’ve constantly gotten lucky. It only appears that way because they have such a defined idea in place and, by staying committed to that, they know what type of player works for them and when it is appropriate to be aggressive. One of the things it will be most interesting to watch with Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman is them developing ‘the eye’ for the mold of the players they each want. There are a couple of ‘elite’ teams in the NFC and several other teams who appear on the cusp of contending. I would lump the Eagles into the latter category. However, they are in a position as an organization where they can continue to build like they did last season. While every member of the organization has remained adamant that winning is their immediate priority, they also appear tuned in to the fact that building a winner is a process. Given how far behind they were when Kelly came into the fold, one has to assume the Eagles brain-trust has set certain benchmarks with a focus on the process. This offseason should tell us, within the first few days of free agency, whether the franchise is still committed to the process. Everything that every party involved has said has indicated that position. No member of an NFL’s team upper management likes to watch the Super Bowl. That said, there is still substantial value to be gained from doing so. The Seahawks, by doing so in their own way, are where the Eagles want to be. Now it is up to Chip Kelly, Howie Roseman, Tom Gamble, and everyone in between to make certain that ‘their way’ is a way that puts them in the same conversation as the Seahawks.

Tags: Chip Kelly Football Howie Roseman John Schneider NFL Philadelphia Eagles

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