The goal for all Eagles fans is to see the team break through and finally win the big game. We want the Lombardi Trophy headed to Broad Street for the party of the century. I generally focus on the Eagles team, but sometimes will take a look at recent Super Bowl winners to see if there are similarities to the Eagles.
Emerging Players - The team who wins the Super Bowl generally has one, two, or even three players emerge. Sometimes it is young guys who become key starters. Sometimes it is good players who become great. There is no specific rhyme or reason, but you do need players to emerge.
The Giants won the Super Bowl and benefited from Jason Pierre-Paul, Victor Cruz, and Eli Manning all taking big steps forward. JPP went from backup to star player, notching 16.5 sacks and giving offenses fits all year long. Cruz went from preseason stud to Pro Bowl type player. He had 1,536 receiving yards. Let's put that in perspective. Terrell Owens has never had that many in a season. Jerry Rice only topped that total twice and he's the greatest receiver in the history of football.
As for Eli, the argument about him being a top shelf quarterback is over. He had a rating of just 73.9 when the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007. That title was about the offensive line, the running game, and a dominant defensive front. Last season the Giants defense was terrible, allowing 25 points a game. Manning stepped up in a big way, throwing for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns. He went from complementary quarterback to being the key to the team.
The 2010 Green Bay Packers had players step up. Tramon Williams went from being a good young corner to a big time player. He was dominant in the playoffs, but was very good all year. He had career highs in most key categories. The Packers had good linebacker play. Clay Matthews was very good as a rookie, but became a dominant player in his second year. The inside guys were outstanding as well. Desmond Bishop went from role player to good starter. A.J. Hawk went from inconsistent starter to good player. They were equally effective against the run and the pass. The Packers offense took big strides forward when young receivers James Jones and Jordy Nelson improved their play. They combined for 95 catches and seven touchdowns.
In 2009 the Saints had several guys emerge. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod was forced to become a starter due to injury and proved to be a solid player. Mike Bell ran for 42 yards in 2008. That number jumped to 654 yards in 2009 and he became a key part of the Saints running back by committee approach. Second year receiver Robert Meachem went from 12 catches and three scores to 45 receptions and nine touchdowns. He added a vertical threat and some speed to the offense. Anthony Hargrove was suspended from the league in 2008, but became a key inside pass rusher in 2009, getting five sacks. Remi Ayodele went from afterthought to starting defensive tackle.
So which Eagles could emerge this year? Nate Allen has shown flashes of big time talent in his first two years. He's now healthy and could end up being the stud safety the Eagles hoped when they picked him so high. Danny Watkins could have a breakout year now that he's better acclimated to playing guard and has a year of experience in the NFL. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was a stud in 2009, but has been up and down since. He could be in for a bounce-back season. Phillip Hunt and Brandon Graham are a pair of young pass rushers that hope to have big years in 2012. Receiver Riley Cooper has shown flashes of serious potential. This year he must take a big step forward.
Arriving Players - Not all help can come from within. Teams need rookie and free agents to join the team and offer some impact.
The Giants lost Kevin Boss to free agency, but replaced him with rookie Jake Ballard and didn't miss a beat. Rookie Henry Hynoski saw some time at fullback. Linebacker Jacquian Williams was a late round pick who ended up getting a lot of playing time. Greg Jones was a middle linebacker who played some. The Giants didn't do much in free agency in 2011. Their big free agent moves had been made in the past.
The Packers got a lot of help from rookies in 2010, even some undrafted players. Neither corner Sam Shields nor linebacker Frank Zombo was drafted, but both were starters on a team that won the Super Bowl. Amazing. Running back James Starks, a late round pick, was hurt for part of the year, but he was an impact player down the stretch. He helped the running game come alive. First round pick Bryan Bulaga had to take over at right tackle due to injury. Andrew Quarless played a lot of tight end after Jermichael Finley got hurt. Tom Crabtree was a good role player. Packers general manager Ted Thompson doesn't believe in using free agency much so he forced the coaches to rely on rookies and it worked really well.
Safety Darren Sharper was a huge part of the Saints title team. The veteran ballhawk has a habit of putting up big numbers in his first season with a team. He picked off nine passes for the Saints, broke up 15 more, and ran three of the picks back for touchdowns. That's an impact acquisition. Rookie Malcolm Jenkins started six games in the secondary. Jabari Greer came from Buffalo to give the Saints a top flight cover corner.
So which new Eagles could be key this year? The first name is obviously DeMeco Ryans. He is the Eagles best middle linebacker since Jeremiah Trotter in 2005. Ryans is not just an outstanding player. He's a leader. He's a steadying force for the young players around him. Don't underestimate how important that is. The one impact free agent is Demetress Bell. He's here to take over for Jason Peters.
The impact rookies could be Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin. Kendricks will be the SAM linebacker. His speed and athleticism could be a huge help to the linebacker corps. Boykin has a chance to be the nickel corner and kickoff returner. Both spots needed help. He also is a speedy, athletic player.
Two other sort of mystery guys are Damaris Johnson and Brett Brackett. Neither player is a lock to make the roster, but both could end up being good role players. Johnson would be a backup receiver and return specialist. Brackett is competing to be the backup tight end. He is a former wide receiver and could be an interesting receiving weapon, although just as a limited role player.
Coaches - The Giants benefited from hiring Perry Fewell to run their defense in 2010. He replaced Bill Sheridan, who really struggled. Fewell has had some ups and downs, but the group came up huge in the postseason.
The Packers benefited from hiring Dom Capers to run their defense in 2009. It took the players a little time to adjust to his 3-4 scheme and zone blitzing, but they posted good numbers that year and were sensation in 2010.
The Saints hired Gregg Williams in 2009 and got immediate results. He kept the 4-3 scheme, but added lots of blitzing and his veteran players loved that. He also focused on turnovers and they came in bunches, which made the Saints offense even more explosive.
If you go back to the 2007 Giants, they hit a home run when they hired Steve Spagnuolo to run their defense. He got them a title in his first year.
As for the Eagles, I don't think anyone will argue that Juan Castillo is going to be Spags, Williams, or Capers. It could be that hiring Jim Washburn will be the key move. Returning to an attacking front helped the Eagles defensive line last year. They could be even better this season. Hiring Todd Bowles won't change anything schematically, but he is a terrific assistant and could improve a sloppy secondary.
We also must acknowledge the addition of Howard Mudd. The Eagles got outstanding play from several linemen in 2011. That has a lot to do with Mudd's system and his coaching. The group should be even better this year, despite the loss of Peters.
Bouncing back - The Giants won it all in 2011, but weren't even a playoff team in 2010. The Packers of 2010 were following up on a season where they lost as a wildcard team on the road. The Saints won it all in 2009, but didn't have a winning record in the two previous years. The 2008 Steelers were champs, but had lost a wildcard game the year before. The 2007 Giants were following up a season when they lost the wildcard game to the Eagles.
The Eagles went just 8-8 last year, but based on recent history that doesn't hurt their chances to win the Super Bowl.