The NFL has long been a copycat league and the 2018 Chicago Bears would do right by imitating the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles.
So with Sunday’s game firmly in our rearview mirror (thankfully, forever), let’s try to understand how the Eagles turned their organization around and see if and how the Bears can make similar moves in the immediate future.
Getting the right coach is the most important decision a general manager makes, because no relationship is more important than the one between coach and quarterback. This is where Philadelphia knocked it out of the park by hiring Doug Pederson.
Pederson was the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator for three years before taking over as the Eagles’ head coach. Prior to that, he was Philadelphia’s offensive quality control coach (2009-10) and quarterbacks coach (2011-12). He also had a 12-year playing career, including two stints as Brett Favre’s backup (1995-98, 2001-04), as well as time behind Dan Marino (1991-95). If there was anything to be learned from simply being in the room with the greats, Pederson probably picked it up.
HOWEVER, hiring Pederson wasn’t the only heads-up move Philadelphia made. They also empowered him to assemble a top-notch staff with specific experience developing quarterbacks.
Frank Reich is probably best known for engineering the greatest comeback in football history, but now serves as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator. Reich has been coaching in the NFL since 2006 when he was an intern for the Indianapolis Colts. He was promoted in 2008 to offensive staff assistant before moving on to quarterbacks coach (2009-10) and wide receivers coach (2011). After a one-year stay coaching the Arizona Cardinals’ wide receivers in 2012, Reich moved on to be the San Diego Chargers’ quarterback coach in 2013 and offensive coordinator in 2014-15.
Reich’s coaching experience includes time with Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, and Larry Fitzgerald – more mighty fine company.
Quarterbacks Coach John DeFilippo is just 39, but has NFL coaching experience dating back to 2005 when he was the New York Giants’ offensive quality control coordinator. He also spent time as a quarterbacks coach (Oakland Raiders 2007-08 and 2012-14, New York Jets 2009) and offensive coordinator (Cleveland Browns, 2015). It wouldn’t be surprising if DeFilippo is painted as the next Sean McVay after having his hands on Wentz the last two seasons.
Press Taylor is a name that might fly below radars, but shouldn’t. Taylor is in his fifth year with the Eagles. He has the fancy title of offensive quality control coach, but has also been the team’s assistant quarterbacks coach since 2016.
What makes this group special is their vast hands-on experience with multiple talented quarterbacks, which is something the Bears’ offensive assistants can’t boast. Pederson, Reich, and DeFilippo have combined to serve as an offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach at the NFL level for 21 years. Dowell Loggains, Dave Ragone, and Ben McDaniels have 13 years of such experience.
Experience Counts at Receiver
The Eagles’ receivers room is a position of strength and experience. Philadelphia didn’t have a 100-yard receiving game game until Sunday, but eight different pass-catchers have caught touchdowns from Wentz, including four different wide receivers. Wentz’s four most targeted pass catchers (Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Torrey Smith, and Zach Ertz) have combined to play 287 games and make 229 starts. Those aren’t insignificant numbers.
Meanwhile, the eight active receivers/tight ends Mitch Trubisky was throwing to have played 290 career games (136 starts) in the NFL. Those numbers are also not insignificant.
NFL Draft, Trades, and Free Agency
The Eagles’ on-field success can be traced back to some successful offseasons.
Of their 11 starters on offense, only running back LeGarrette Blount, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, and guards Stefen Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks were not drafted by the team. A majority of the team’s defensive starters were draft picks, too. Though, two of the team’s best starters were acquired via trade in this calendar year.
The Bears started 11 players who were drafted by the team, including eight drafted by GM Ryan Pace since 2015. If the Bears are going to take an Eagles-like leap in 2018, Pace must hit at a high rate in this draft and lure some high-caliber free agents to the roster.
So … What Can the Bears Do?
It starts with the right head coaching hire (when we get there), but that won’t flip a magic switch. Hiring a coach who brings in the right assistants to work with Trubisky is just as important as the head coach, himself.
Adding experienced talent at receiver and tight end would also be beneficial. Even if Dontrelle Inman is retained after quickly connecting with Trubisky, the Bears can’t go into 2018 relying on a healthy Kevin White or Cameron Meredith. Nor should they put a majority of the burden on a high-round rookie draft pick. This class of free agent pass catchers includes receivers Davante Adams (whom we’ve discussed here), Jarvis Landry (who was the talk of trade chatter most of the year), and Sammy Watkins, as well as tight end Jimmy Graham. Pace would do well to bring some experience to the huddle for his developing quarterback.
Each of Pace’s last two drafts have unearthed three regular starters. And going back to his first draft in 2015, Pace has drafted 11 players who spent a good amount of time in the starting lineup as rookies. He’ll need to put together another successful draft with players who can contribute immediately and at a high level.
Good luck with all that.