The age old saying lives on: the NFL is a copycat league. We’ve covered it every year since the Ravens last won a Super Bowl, but what can the Ravens learn from the latest upstart team in the NFL?
In 2013-2015, the key was a suffocating defense. In 2016, it was creativity and personnel on the offensive side of the ball. In 2017, it’s creativity, personnel and the right mentality?
The Eagles, the most unlikely Super Bowl champion considering everything they went through, serve as the newest blueprint that a team will likely want to emulate. From players to the front office, 30 other teams are looking at the Eagles, wondering how they can position themselves to make a Super Bowl run. For the Ravens, specifically, it begins with realizing what you have and what you don’t. One thing Steve Bisciotti mentioned in his most recent press conference was how the team has failed to replace the talent evaluators who left the organization over the last several years. Among these evaluators is Joe Douglas, the man currently in charge of player/personnel for the Eagles.
Since Douglas’ arrival in the 2016 offseason, the Eagles added players such as, Corey Clement, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Patrick Robinson, LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi. It’s unclear how much say or authority Douglas possessed in bringing the aforementioned players in, but his opinion is valued and well respected by Eagles GM Howie Roseman. Douglas spent 15 years with the Ravens, from 2000-2015. During his tenure in Baltimore, the Ravens consistently produced some of the best players in the NFL. From Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, to Ed Reed and Jamal Lewis, the Ravens personnel department was nearly unrivaled.
Systems matter, but so do personnel. What the Eagles did was part of a strong system, but their depth was outstanding. They had players that could step up in a ‘next man up’ mentality and take care of the job. If the Ravens believe they have a winning system, they need to continue supplementing it with players capable of executing the system, no matter the situation. Not everybody is replaceable, but as the Eagles proved, the right coaching decisions and the right personnel can do anything. Nobody thought they’d be able to overcome the loss of a quarterback like Carson Wentz, but they did.
So often front offices and fans alike are distracted by the big free agent; the Alshon Jeffery and Tony Jefferson caliber players. Looking back at the Ravens previous Super Bowl run, their biggest contributions came from players like Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Bernard Pollard, Torrey Smith, Cary Williams, Corey Graham and Jacoby Jones. None of those players were stars outside of their time with the Ravens, but when some of the older players on the defense were struggling, they were there to pick up the slack.
The Eagles weren't the only team benefiting from this ideology either. Their opponent in the NFC Championship game, the Minnesota Vikings, had quality depth at the quarterback position and adapted once their dynamic rookie running back, Dalvin Cook, was lost early in the year.
While high level talent absolutely makes a difference in the NFL, it is important to remember that in a league that values attrition, quality depth can be the determining factor in a successful season. That is the lesson the Ravens should take away from 2017.