Did the Seattle Seahawks remake the NFL with their Super Bowl win?

Did the Seattle Seahawks remake the NFL with their Super Bowl win?

"The way the game is today, none of these offensive records will last." Those are the words of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning after he broke the NFL’s single-season record for touchdown passes back in Week 16. The five-time league MVP even quipped Tom Brady would “probably break it again next year.”

Funny, but there was a hint of truth to those words. Dan Marino’s previous record of 48 touchdown passes set in 1984 stood for 20 years, but has since been broken three times in the last decade—first by Manning, then Brady, and now Manning again, who this time shattered it with 55.

Marino’s single-season record of 5,084 passing yards survived even longer. It took 27 years, but Drew Brees finally raised the bar in 2011. Of course, Brees’ mark stood for all of two years before Manning one-upped it with 5,477 during his historic 2013 campaign.

Both lists read like a who’s who of the great signal-callers in the present-day NFL. Of the 10 times a player has eclipsed 40 touchdowns in a season, half of those occurred in the last three years. Of the eight times a player exceeded 5,000 yards through the air, all but Marino accomplished the feat in the last three years.

It’s a passing league, as analysts like to say, a point Andy Reid rammed home to Philadelphia Eagles fans for 14 years. As maddening as Reid could be, it was difficult to argue which direction the sport was trending through his tenure as head coach of the Birds. All evidence pointed to the NFL being quarterback-driven.

The truly great, dominant defenses were a thing of the past, left for dead because rule changes made things easier for offenses; because the talent pool has been stretched and diluted by expansion; because wide receivers and tight ends were becoming enormous monsters that are impossible to match up against.

Then the Seattle Seahawks came along and won a Super Bowl the old-fashioned way—on the back of a punishing, hard-nosed defense.

The Seahawks didn’t merely win the game, they absolutely demolished Manning’s Broncos, by a final score of 43-8 in case you tuned out early. Manning, who when it’s all said and done might finish his career as the most prolific passer of all time, was limited to 5.7 yards per attempt and was responsible for committing three of his team’s four turnovers.

Not that the outcome was all Manning’s fault—far from it. Denver’s offensive line was no match for the Seahawks’ pass rush, nor would you have guessed the Broncos had hands down the best receiving corps in the league this season given how easily the Seahawks were able to take away everything but short dinks and dunks over the middle.

The loss wasn’t really on Manning at all. Denver’s offense, the No. 1 offense in the NFL this season by almost any meaningful measure—and by a wide margin at that—was completely overmatched by Seattle’s defense in every aspect of the competition.

Until Sunday, when was the last time a team reached the playoffs and went on to hoist the Lombardi Trophy almost entirely on the strength of its defense? Probably the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. That’s the class of defense the Seahawks have entered, in 2013, when some might’ve believed it impossible.

And it was no fluke. Seattle was ranked No. 1 against the pass in 2013, surrendering a paltry 172.0 yards per game during the regular season—22.1 yards per game better than second place. Only two quarterbacks all year threw for over 300 yards in a contest including playoffs, and only seven of 19 opponents even accumulated 200 yards through the air.

Seattle was eighth with 44 sacks, first in interceptions by five with 28, and posted the best opponents’ passer rating was 63.4, the lowest in the league by a whopping 10.8 points—the lowest of any defense since 2009.

So, like we do every year in the immediate aftermath of the Super Bowl, we wonder aloud what the Eagles and the rest of the league can learn from the victors, and it boils down to a very simple line of questioning. Have the Seahawks come up with the solution to defeating the modern-day, pass-happy, quarterback-friendly NFL?

Does defense once again win championships?

If Seattle was the only team in the league getting it done with defense right now, that would give us pause, but one look around the NFC tells that’s not the case. The San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers featured two of the toughest defenses this season, and to a lesser extent, the New Orleans Saints did too. All four franchises advanced to the Divisional Round of the tournament. Their combined record was 54-19.

It’s no secret how these great defenses are being built, either. The emphasis is on size and speed at every level, period.

The Seahawks’ D isn’t full of blue-chip prospects as you might suspect, either. Only linebacker Bruce Irvin and safety Earl Thomas were even first-round picks. However, the unit is built to play big and fast. They can run around or through the opponent’s offensive line. They can match up with the offense’s tallest and speediest players. Everybody is physical and they all can tackle.

Although, to suggest any of this changes the Eagles’ blueprints for this coming offseason would be a tad disingenuous. Based on their many of their recent moves, the organization has already started moving toward the Seahawks model.

Head coach Chip Kelly has discussed what he looks for in personnel at certain positions, and those feelings are probably best summed up in one quote: “Big people beat up little people.” And when we dissect what the Birds did in the last two drafts under general manager Howie Roseman, you can see the premium that’s been placed on all-around athleticism.

Since 2012, the Eagles have come away from the draft with Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry, Brandon Boykin, Bennie Logan and Earl Wolff. If nothing else, there’s a lot of speed in that group.

Also, just last offseason, the front office signed Connor Barwin, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher to free-agent contracts. The additions provided a boost to the overall size and physicality of a defense that was in abysmal shape before Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis arrived on the scene.

The Eagles need more athletes like the players listed above—a lot more in fact, and in several cases, better. At least it’s a start. In many respects, Philly is ahead of the curve, having won 10 games and earned a playoff berth with major contributions from a young core in what many assumed would be a rebuilding year.

However, it would seem Philadelphia’s 32nd-ranked pass defense still has a long way to before reaching Seattle’s level on defense, or even San Fran, Carolina or New Orleans for that matter. That should be the goal of every team in the league as of today, because those defenses are proving the likes of Peyton Manning and similarly prolific passers in the modern-day NFL can be slowed and in fact shut down.

Apparently, that’s become the way to win again in pro football.

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

In the wake of the Sam Bradford trade, the Eagles' announcement a week before the opener that Carson Wentz would start Week 1 was met with some skepticism and overwhelmingly tempered expectations.

But it looks like the kid can play.

And the Eagles aren’t just looking smart for drafting and playing Wentz. They’re also looking pretty smart for filling their coaching staff and quarterback room with decades of quarterback experience.

“It's a tight room,” head coach Doug Pederson said.

It’s also a knowledgeable one.

Pederson is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is a former college quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. And backup Chase Daniel has been in the league since 2009 and in Pederson’s offense since 2013.

If Wentz has a question, he has plenty of guys to ask. And it seems like this support system, which at one time looked like overkill, might be one of the keys that has allowed the rookie to take the NFL by storm.

“There’s no doubt. There’s no doubt,” the veteran backup Daniel said. “Obviously, he’s a very bright young mind, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the coaching in the quarterback room has played a good part into his maturation and his bringing along so fast. There’s no doubt about it.”

Through three games, Wentz has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's the first rookie in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first three games of a career. Oh yeah, and the Eagles are 3-0.

It’s hard to believe that about a month ago, Wentz was gearing up for a redshirt year as the third quarterback behind Sam Bradford and Daniel. Now, he isn’t just the future franchise quarterback. He is the franchise quarterback.

And Wentz gives his quarterback-heavy coaching staff plenty of credit.

“It’s huge having them,” Wentz said. “I could never say enough how much they understand the game. They get it. They know what it’s like. As a former quarterback, they know what I’m going through and how I’m seeing things, so it’s been huge.”

The Eagles were clearly smitten with Wentz from the time they saw him in Alabama for the Senior Bowl. Eventually, de facto GM Howie Roseman was able to maneuver to the No. 2 pick to draft Wentz.

But Wentz went No. 2 and not No. 1, so it’s almost impossible to not peek over at Los Angeles and see how first overall pick Jared Goff is doing. So far, he isn’t doing much of anything. It doesn’t mean that eventually Goff won’t be a good quarterback, but through three games, he’s been inactive once and hasn’t yet played. The Rams are sticking with Case Keenum for now.

NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling compared the support system for Goff with the Rams and Wentz's with the Eagles. We’ll take a deeper look into what he started:

Rams
• Head coach Jeff Fisher: Defensive coach

• OC Rob Boras: Never a QB coach; coached tight ends in NFL from 2004-15

• QB Coach Chris Weinke: Former NFL QB for seven seasons; was highly-thought of QB draft guru with IMG academy for four years

• Vet QB Case Keenum: In league since 2012; best QB he's played with is Matt Schaub

Eagles
• Head coach Doug Pederson: 12 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Philly; OC in KC

• OC Frank Reich: 14 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Indy with Peyton Manning in 2009-10; QB coach and OC in San Diego

• QB Coach: John DeFilippo: College QB; QBs coach at Fordham, Columbia; QBs coach with Raiders, Jets, OC with Browns

• Vet QB Chase Daniel: In league since 2009; learned under Drew Brees; has been in Pederson's offense since 2013

It’s very possible if Wentz becomes a great quarterback that other teams copy the Eagles’ quarterback-heavy approach.

But it’s not just about getting a bunch of smart people and a talented rookie in the same room. Everything else has to work. The rookie has to be a diligent learner and all of the teachers have to check their egos and work together.

“I let John (DeFilippo), I let the quarterback coach run the meeting,” Pederson said. “If I interject, I interject. The way it works is I send my message through Frank (Reich), Frank through the position coaches. At the same time, if I want to interject something, I will interject. Just making sure there's one voice in the meeting room and they are not hearing three different answers from three different people, the message is the same.”

Practice squad quarterback Aaron Murray, who joined the team a couple weeks ago, thinks the quarterback room has “definitely” helped Wentz achieve his early success. While he is just a practice-squader, go ahead and add Murray — who was in the offense for two years in Kansas City — to the list of quarterback minds happy to help Wentz.

Murray, a fifth-rounder out of Georgia in 2014, has been impressed with Wentz’s ability to pick up protections and schemes at a young age. He compared him to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in that regard. While Murray, along with everyone else, is happy to give Wentz tips, he tries to not overload him.

“You still want him to just go out there and play,” he said.

Murray is the newcomer to the room, but he’s been impressed with the dynamic so far. He’s not the only one. It looks like this quarterback experiment might just work.

“It’s awesome. It’s great,” Daniel said. “Everyone has a say in there and everyone in the room, it’s pretty crazy, everyone in the room, really except Carson, has been around it, has been in it and played. Obviously, he’s played, but been around for a while. He’s just a sponge, he’s just taking it all in.

“Maybe some stuff he doesn’t need to take in. Maybe some stuff he wants to do his own way, which is great. You want your own personality out there. But yeah, he’s been great. It’s been great for us too as players. We have almost a 2-to-1 coach-to-player ratio. It’s been great. Everyone has little tidbits here and there and we roll.”

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Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies’ bullpen continued its ugly, late-season collapse on Tuesday night. It was tagged for six runs in a 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves rallied for the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth inning (see Instant Replay).
 
The loss came two days after the bullpen gave up 14 earned runs in four innings in a 17-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday and it left manager Pete Mackanin more than a little bit frustrated.
 
“The bullpen has just not been doing the job,” Mackanin said.
 
Jerad Eickhoff gave up just one run (on a solo homer by Freddie Freeman) over four walk-free innings to open the game. He was up 6-1 after four innings when the rains came and stopped the game for an hour and 53 minutes.
 
With Eickhoff bounced by the weather, Mackanin had to go to his bullpen. He used four relievers — Severino Gonzalez, Luis Garcia, Joely Rodriguez and David Hernandez — and all gave up runs.
 
Phillies relievers have pitched 77 1/3 innings this month and allowed 69 earned runs for an ERA of 8.03. So that’s one more thing Matt Klentak has to fix this winter, along with the offense that Mackanin wants to see addressed (see story).
 
Ultimately, Hernandez took the loss when he gave up three hits and a run in the bottom of the eighth. The other run in the inning was charged to Rodriguez.
 
As unbelievable as it may sound with rosters being expanded in September, the Phillies played this game shorthanded.
 
They did not have reliever Edubray Ramos. He had a sore elbow, Mackanin said.
 
They did not have outfielder Peter Bourjos, who had gone home to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
 
They also did not have outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who is out with a concussion.
 
Not having Bourjos or Goeddel forced Mackanin to use Darin Ruf in left field after Roman Quinn went out with an oblique injury in the sixth inning. Ruf failed to make a catch on a long fly ball by Tyler Flowers to the gap in left-center. The non-play extended the eighth inning and fueled the Braves’ comeback.
 
“It should have been caught,” Mackanin said. “If Quinn's out there, he catches it. He wasn't out there.”
 
Hernandez was the only free agent that the Phillies signed to a major-league contract this winter. The Phillies signed him with an eye toward using him as the closer. But Hernandez struggled much of the season and slipped into the middle innings while Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez rose to high-leverage roles.
 
Gomez lost the closer’s job last week and Mackanin was saving Neris to close out this game. That meant Hernandez had to pitch the eighth. He couldn’t protect the lead. He gave up the game-tying hit to Mallex Smith and the go-ahead hit to Emilio Bonafacio.
 
“Neris was going to close for us,” Mackanin said. “I thought about using him with two outs in the eighth. But, at some point, somebody else has to do a (bleeping) job. Somebody else has to (bleeping) step up. In two games now, every reliever I brought in has given up a (bleeping) run. That's unheard of.”
 
The bullpen’s unraveling threw cold (rain) water on Eickhoff’s solid start and Ryan Howard’s big night. Howard belted his 24th homer, a grand slam in the first inning, to highlight a 14-hit attack and help the Phils jump to a 6-0 lead.
 
“Eickhoff looked like he was having one of his best games and then the rain came. So that was our first disappointment,” Mackanin said. "Other than that, Howie swung the bat great. Hit that grand slam. We got 14 hits, but we stranded 12 runners. We have to keep adding on.”
 
Quinn had three of the Phillies’ 14 hits then added to his collection of injuries with the oblique strain that bounced him from the game in the sixth. He hurt himself taking a swing.
 
Oblique injuries generally keep a player sidelined for at least three weeks, so Quinn’s season is likely over. He missed six weeks with a similar injury at Double A Reading this summer. The 23-year-old outfielder came up from the minors on Sept. 11 and has been auditioning for a spot on next season’s opening day roster.
 
“It looks like it,” Mackanin said when asked if Quinn was done for what remains of the season.
 
Injuries have been a consistent hurdle for Quinn ever since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. He has missed significant time with a ruptured Achilles tendon, a wrist injury that required surgery, a torn quad muscle and an oblique strain. Now he has another one.
 
“It’s the same one I hurt before,” Quinn said. “It’s frustrating.”
 
Right now, just about everything is frustrating with this team. Good thing there are only five games left.

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