Which Super Bowl team is better, the 2004 or 2017 Philadelphia Eagles?

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For the first time in 13 years, the Eagles are headed back to the Super Bowl. Once again the Eagles run into the Tom Brady led Patriots who are looking to win back to back championships and their 3rd in 4 years. Brady is the lone Patriot remaining from when these teams met in Super Bowl 39 and the Eagles team is entirely new. Let’s take a quick look back at the starters and notable backups for that team and compare it to this years version.

Quarterback

’04 – Donovan McNabb

’17 – Nick Foles

Donovan McNabb was THE guy around here at the time. He was the face of the franchise and the engine that made the offense go.  Nick Foles has been the feel good story. He’s the backup quarterback trying to do just enough to get his team the “W”. At the position that probably counts the most towards winning this game, these 2 players are very different. Foles needs to be accurate, make good decisions, and keep the chains moving. McNabb was relied on to do it with both his arms and his legs. Another thing to consider is the intangibles. While he wowed on the field at times, this is the area where Eagles fans always thought McNabb came up a little bit short. He never really performed well on the big stage. The story of him throwing up in the huddle still lives in infamy. Foles seems to have a calm demeanor that has righted what could have been a shaky ship after the Wentz injury. Foles hasn’t been rattled at all. He’s looked almost Eli Manning-esque through 2 playoff games, and I mean that in a positive way.

Even though Nick Foles may be the right guy at the right time, I’m not going to disrespect one of the best players in Eagles history here.

Better Team – ’04

 

Running Back

’04 – Brian Westbrook, Dorsey Levens

’17 – Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement

In ’04, Brian Westbrook had become one of the most dynamic weapons in the NFL. Dorsey Levens was a stable veteran at the end of his career. This years team has adapted the committee approach with great success. While Westbrook was a great weapon, he wasn’t really the type of back you need to grind out games in December and January.  Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount are absolutely built that way. Add a sprinkle of Corey Clement’s play-making ability and that makes this teams situation much better. Westbrook was the best player but this years team is the much better group.

Better Team – ’17

 

Wide Receiver

’04 – Terrell Owens, Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell, Greg Lewis

’17 – Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins

Ahh what could have been with T.O… The rest of the guys from the ’04 were really just bodies. Pinkston was the deep threat who basically ran 1 route and had 0 physicality to him. “Fred X” was basically just a mouth. I hated that he was talking nonsense on media day. You know the Pats eat that up and I hope no one from this years team gives them any bulletin board material. Lewis was just a guy but made a really nice catch at the end of this game.

This year, the group is much more well rounded. Alshon isn’t as dynamic as T.O. but he’s a great possession receiver and a huge red-zone asset. Torrey Smith takes the top off the defense. He’s not a guy who’s targeted a lot but his role here is important. Agholor was once thought of in the same breath as Freddie Mitchell but now that he’s got his head on straight we can all see he’s a much more talented player. Same thought as the running backs, T.O. was the best player but this years group as a whole is much better and much more diverse.

Better Team – ’17

 

Tight End

’04 – LJ Smith

’17 – Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, Brent Celek

Chad Lewis would be included in the ’04 group but he broke his ankle in the NFCCG against Atlanta that year. This one is an overwhelming advantage for the ’17 team. LJ Smith had some athleticism to him and at the time many thought he had a high upside but this years group is one of the best in the league. Ertz is at the top of his game. Burton adds athleticism and versatility to the position and Celek is a great run blocker and reliable pass catcher. They all have their place in this offense.  LJ Smith may not have even made this roster.

Better Team – ’17

 

Offensive Line

’04 – Tra Thomas, Artis Hicks, Hank Fraley, Jermane Mayberry, Jon Runyan

’17 – Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson

In both years the line is missing Pro Bowl players.  In ’04, then rookie Shawn Andrews was out for the year and while he hadn’t yet played a game, he was a dominant lineman when he was on the field who could have helped in that game. This year it’s All Pro LT Jason Peters. His best days are probably behind him but he surely would have been a benefit if he were out there.  Thomas and Runyan were in their peak at this time and were both very stable, Pro Bowl caliber players. Mayberry was coming off a Pro Bowl 2 years earlier and both Fraley and Hicks were solid that year.

This team has Lane Johnson, who is probably the best player on either line. His line mate Brandon Brooks has been equally dominating this year in pass protection and has been a mauling run blocker. Jason Kelce has had a career resurgence. He’s light at the point of attack but his mobility on the line is a huge benefit on outside runs and screen passes. Wiz has been a stabilizing force since he joined the lineup and “Big V” has been such a pleasant surprise in terms of how well he’s played.

This is close but I’m going with this years team. The deciding factor for me was that I find the interior of the line to be much better this time around.

Better Team – ’17

 

Defensive End

’04 – Jevon Kearse, Derrick Burgess, Hugh Douglas, Jerome McDougle

’17 – Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Chris Long, Derek Barnett

For whatever reason, Jevon Kearse wasn’t the player here that he was with the Titans. At this point, Burgess was not the pass rusher he would become with the Raiders. Hugh Douglas was at the end of the line and McDougle was a colossal 1st round bust.  This years team has the “fastballs” that the Andy Reid teams always emphasized.

The ’17 group is as good a quartet as there is in the NFL. They don’t have the one sack artist who stands out but this group is disruptive and deep, not to mention fresh. The amount of pressures and sacks that this group creates with be a huge factor in determining the winner of this years game.

Better Team – ’17

 

Defensive Tackle

’04 – Corey Simon, Darwin Walker, Hollis Thomas

’17 – Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Beau Allen, Destiny Vaeao

Corey Simon was a good player for his short period of time here. He started off like something great but never took the conditioning aspect of the game seriously. Walker and Thomas were good run defenders.

Fletcher Cox is one of the best defensive players in the NFL at any position. He is a nightmare for offensive lines and dominates in both pushing the pocket and stopping the run. Jernigan is also a very disruptive interior presence. Philly will need him to step up if Belichick tries to take away Cox. Allen is also a very good run defender.

This years group is far better that the ’04 version. This may be one of the biggest differences in the 2 teams and the key to actually winning this time.

Better Team – ’17

 

Linebacker

’04 – Jeremiah Trotter, Dhani Jones, Mark Simoneau, Nate Wayne, Keith Adams, Ike Reese

’17 – Nigel Bradham, Mychal Kendricks, Najee Goode, Danell Ellerbe, Kamu Grugier-Hill

This is very close. Trotter is a thumper and tackle machine that this team hasn’t had in years. Jones, Simoneau and Wayne were professionals who did their job. Adams and Reese were excellent special teams players who both had their times where they were starters here.

This years team would look a lot different if Jordan Hicks were still around. Without him there’s not really a great coverage linebacker or someone who could drop into the middle of the field like he could. Bradham has been excellent lately since taking over the leadership role. Kendricks has rediscovered the fundamentals of the game that seemed lost on him last season. There’s not much after that. KGH is a good special teamer. Goode has been a core special teamer and spot starter for some time now.

Even though Trotter couldn’t cover I think he was the best player in this bunch. For that reason and the overall depth of the group I am going with the ’04 version of linebackers.

Better Team – ’04

 

Cornerbacks 

’04 – Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, Rod Hood, Matt Ware

’17 – Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas, Sidney Jones

Both of these groups have such high upside and young talent. The ’04 version was very similar to this group. Sheppard and Brown were both in their first years of starting after being high draft picks. Both players went on to become Pro Bowl talents.  Rod Hood was also in his 2nd year and was a pretty good slot corner in his time.

This years team has the same high upside young talent. Darby is long and has a quick twitch to him while Mills has more dog in him and will fight you every play. Robinson is a solid player who has not only stabilized the slot corner position but made it a strength. We know Brady loves his slot receivers so Robinson needs to be ready for a huge task. Douglas is another very long, rangy corner with great ball skills. We won’t see much of Sidney Jones but he may be the best of the bunch.

I have to go with this years team. They’re taller, longer, deeper and they have much more swagger and fight in them than the ’04 version did.

Better Team – ’17

 

Safeties

’04 – Brian Dawkins, Michael Lewis, Quintin Mikell

’17 – Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham

Man, how could I ever go against Brian Dawkins!? This group is particularly difficult to choose. Brian Dawkins was all time great. Tremendous leader. Dynamic player. One of the best who ever did it. Dawkins paired with Lewis was a very good tandem at the time. Lewis was a big hitter who made a Pro Bowl in his own right. Mikell was green at the time but was good depth who later became a very solid starter. While that group would hit you in the mouth, this years team is much better in coverage.  Jenkins is a jack of all trades who can line up all over the field. He does it all in this defense and is a great leader just as Dawkins was. McLeod can hit like Lewis did but he’s much better covering one on one and definitely covering the deep half of the field. Corey Graham has been a solid veteran presence who comes in and allows Jenkins to play wherever he is needed.

Sorry Dawk, this years group is slightly better.  The ’17 version is tailor made for today’s NFL with their versatility and athleticism.  Nobody tell “Weapon-X” I wrote this.

Better Team – “17

 

Specialists

’04 – David Akers, Dirk Johnson, Brian Westbrook, JR Reed

’17 – Jake Elliott, Donnie Jones, Kenjon Barner

David Akers is the best kicker in Eagles history. Brian Westbrook was obviously a great punt returner. JR Reed was an up and coming kick returner before wrecking his leg. The only area I feel this years team is better is punter where Donnie Jones is great at pinning people inside the 20’s and still has a pretty powerful leg. Elliott has made some big kicks but he’s missed some chippies. The Eagles will need him to be on his game for sure. We’ve seen Barner be an electric returner at times but he doesn’t bring the ball out of the endzone much and has been shaky fielding punts.

Better Team – ’04

 

Coaching

’04 – Andy Reid, Brad Childress, Jim Johnson

’17 – Doug Pederson, Franck Reich, Jim Schwartz

I would also like to point out that Marty Morninwheg, Pat Shurmur, Steve Spagnuolo, Sean McDermott and John Harbaugh were also on that ’04 staff. Talk about loaded. “Big Red” was a great coach here for a long time but never quite came through in the big games. He seemed to always abandon the run completely at times and made numerous time management errors. Andy also had a great mind like Jim Johnson coaching the defens. Johnson’s attacking style was tailor made for Philadelphia. Doug, unlike Andy, has shown an appreciation for the run and the control of the clock. It has been a great run and he and Schwartz have had great game plans on both sides of the ball.

What we don’t know is whether Doug will stand the test of time like Andy did. I may be a prisoner of the moment with this but I’m going to give the nod to Doug simply because the way he coaches seems to be more conducive to winning in tough games.

Better Team – ’17

 

The 2004 team was great in it’s own right. Surely a team that we will all remember forever.  It just seems, at least from this perspective, that this years Eagles team is much deeper in talent. Despite the “underdog” label, this team looks much more like a team that can complete the mission. We get the answer in 9 days.

 

Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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