Eagles

Eagles somehow put together a winner overnight

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Eagles somehow put together a winner overnight

Team chemistry is such an elusive thing and, once you finally find it, such a fragile thing.

What was the difference between the 2004 and 2005 Eagles? It wasn't talent. It was a solitary wide receiver who was intent on destroying the chemistry of a Super Bowl team because he wasn't happy with his contract.

No sport requires this level of teamwork, and no sport requires this level of unselfishness. With very few exceptions, you really need a special group of people for sustained success in the NFL, and that's why figuring out what kind of person you're getting in the draft or free agency has become just as important as figuring out what kind of player you're getting.

Which brings us to the 2017 Eagles, who by any measure are the best team in the NFL as we arrive at the midpoint of the season.

They're rolling along at 7-1 with a six-game winning streak, with those six wins coming by an average of 11½ points. You know all the facts and figures. The NFL's fourth-ranked offense and 10th-ranked defense, the hottest quarterback in the league, the stingiest run defense in the league in seven years.

Here's another number: 22.

That's how many new players are on the roster.

And that may be the most remarkable number of all.

GM Howie Roseman and vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas took a 7-9 team with a rookie coach and quarterback and instead of just hoping that another year together would turn them into a winner, they gutted the thing.

Some 42 percent of the 53-man roster that will face the Broncos on Sunday was not part of the 2016 Eagles. 

Think about all the key guys on last year's team the Eagles cut ties with.

The leading rusher and leading wide receiver. A former first-round pick. Both starting corners. Two defensive line starters who had played at a high level here. And so on.

And think about the new guys. How many key contributors on this team weren't even here last year?

Derek Barnett, Mack Hollins and Rasul Douglas came in the draft. Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount, Patrick Robinson, Corey Graham and Chris Long signed as free agents. Tim Jernigan, Ronald Darby and Dexter McDougle arrived via trades.

Corey Clement was an undrafted rookie. Jake Elliott was plucked off the Bengals' practice squad. Kenjon Barner was home in California out of work.

We've seen the Eagles make wholesale changes in the past and it didn't go so well. But this group is different. The Eagles managed to rebuild the roster and truly reshape the franchise while also creating a remarkable chemistry and maintaining the unselfish, team-first culture that Doug Pederson has been crafting.

To turn over nearly half the roster and emerge with a singular unit in which new guys and old guys are all working together for the common good is an incredibly difficult thing to do. But Howie and Joe pulled it off virtually overnight. And Doug certainly deserves a ton of credit for taking all these disparate parts he was given and helping mold them into a unified whole.

One thing most of these guys have in common is that they're winners.

Blount and Long won a Super Bowl last year. Torrey Smith and Graham won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. Tennessee went 25-14 when Barnett was there. West Virginia was 18-8 with Douglas on the field. Wisconsin was 40-9 with Clement. North Carolina went 19-8 in Mack Hollins' two years as a starter.

This was not an accident. Roseman and Douglas wanted a locker room full of players who not only are talented but also have tremendous character and understand the commitment it takes to win.

Put enough guys like that together and you have a pretty good chance to build that winning culture all coaches and front office executives talk about but very few know how to build.

It's happened here and it's happened faster than anybody anticipated. Even the people that put this all together.

The Eagles went out and found 53 seemingly random puzzle pieces, and halfway through the season, it sure looks like they all fit together perfectly.

How Eagles could shut down Vikings' receiving duo

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How Eagles could shut down Vikings' receiving duo

When you think about the best wide receivers in the NFL today, names like Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and DeAndre Hopkins come to mind and rightfully so, but the Minnesota Vikings have a pair of wideouts who have given opposing secondaries fits.

This season, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have been the perfect complement to each other. Thielen finished the regular season with 91 receptions (eighth-best in the league), 1276 yards (fifth-best) and his 20 catches for 20 or more yards tied for fifth-best overall. As for Diggs, he finished with 64 receptions for 849 yards.

Together, Thielen and Diggs accounted for 54 percent of the Vikings' receiving yards this season. They also combined for 12 touchdowns. In the Vikes' miraculous playoff win over the New Orleans Saints, they accounted for 66 percent of the passing game. They have been the safety valves for Case Keenum all season long.

Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has the rare luxury of lining up either one of them on the inside or outside on any given play. Both are excellent route runners — whether it's doing deep or intermediate routes or crossing routes, and both are excellent blockers.

So how should Jim Schwartz defend against these two? Some believe help over the top on Thielen and playing single coverage on Diggs is the way to go. We may see that concept occasionally in the NFC Championship Game but I have a feeling Schwartz will come up with some variation we have not seen before. The Eagles are not going to completely shut these two down, but their damage can be minimized. Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson and the other DBs will put in a full day’s work shadowing these two.

Howie Roseman honored for his tremendous offseason

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Howie Roseman honored for his tremendous offseason

As the Eagles practiced on Thursday afternoon, just a few days before hosting the NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field, vice president of football operations Howie Roseman stood next to owner Jeff Lurie and watched the team he created. 

Of the 53 members on the Eagles' roster heading into this championship game, 25 weren't on the active roster last season. Roseman had a very busy offseason, molding the Eagles into a Super Bowl contender. 

For his efforts, the 42-year-old Roseman, who began with the Eagles as an intern in 2000, has been named the NFL Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America. 

Roseman helped turn over a roster that went 7-9 last season into a team that went 13-3, earning the first-overall seed in the NFC. He built the team with enough depth to survive major injuries to Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos and Caleb Sturgis. 

Never afraid to make a trade, Roseman came back from his time away from football operations more aggressive than ever. He claims his year away from GM duties while Chip Kelly took over was both humbling and eye-opening. 

For this season, Roseman traded 25 spots in the third round to bring in veteran defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, traded away Jordan Matthews and a pick to bring in cornerback Ronald Darby and pulled the trigger on a midseason move to bring in Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi. 

In free agency, he signed Alshon Jeffery, Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Nick Foles, Patrick Robinson and Chance Warmack. He brought in several of those players on one-year prove-it deals, and for the most part, the team has gotten more than their money's worth out of them. 

He also helped hire VP of player personnel Joe Douglas to revamp the scouting department. That hire of a top personnel man was one of the conditions when Lurie reinstated Roseman to power following Kelly's dismissal. 

Roseman and Douglas spearheaded drafting a class that included Derek Barnett in the first round, an injured Sidney Jones in the second and some other contributors in the next five rounds. 

Aside from just bringing players in, Roseman has been able to manipulate the salary cap better than anyone in the league. It's been a strength of his since his arrival in Philly, so that should be no surprise. 

You could actually argue that Roseman's 2016 was more impressive. That's when he laid the groundwork for this playoff season by moving up and drafting Carson Wentz. But 2017 is when it all came together.