Andy Reid, Eagles Wrong About Linebackers, Part III: The Free Agency Era
Part III of this series continues exploring the importance of linebackers to teams that have won Super Bowls. This is done in direct response to the Philadelphia Eagles and Andy Reid’s philosophy that linebackers don’t matter.
Will great linebacker play carry over to the era of free agency?
New York Giants: 1990
not many things were scarier than LT coming off the edge.
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Minus Hall of Famer Harry Carson, the Giants won their second Super Bowl in five years with a great group of linebackers. Led once again by Lawrence Taylor, he was joined by Carl Banks and Pepper Johnson.
Taylor led the way again with 10.5 sacks, Johnson added 115 tackles, Banks had 50 tackles and a sack in eight starts. This group ended up with a Hall of Fame induction, 10 first-team All-Pro selections and 13 Pro Bowls.
Washington Redskins: 1991
Marshall brought some '85 Bears with him to D.C.
The one pesky team that went against the linebacker grain finally changed their tune. This defense added Wilber Marshall, Matt Millen and Andre Collins to Monte Coleman. Free agency makes itself known as both Marshall and Millen won Super Bowls with other teams in the 1980s.
On their way to dominating opponents 102-41 in the postseason, this linebacking crew totaled 6.0 sacks and four interceptions. They also combined for two first-team All-Pro selections and four Pro Bowls.
One more thing needs mentioning. Although Collins never made a Pro Bowl, in five years with Washington he averaged 120 tackles per season and he added 18.5 sacks and three defensive touchdowns.
Dallas Cowboys: 1992-93
Ken Norton was tough, a leader and a playmaker.
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This is the point that hurt Eagles fans the most. Not just because of the hated Cowboys winning the Super Bowl after a 15-year drought, but because the '90s opened with their three NFC East rivals winning the first four Super Bowls of the decade.
The Cowboys had the least decorated linebackers up to this point in the '90s, with only Ken Norton, Jr. being selected to an All-Pro team and three Pro Bowls. Charles Haley moved to the Cowboys in free agency, but he also moved to defensive end.
So this Cowboys team had a first-team All-Pro and three Pro Bowls. They also had two Pro Bowl level safeties in Darren Woodson and Brock Marion, but safeties are another subject altogether for Eagles fans.
San Francisco 49ers: 1994
Norton continued to make plays, and helped bring the Super Bowl back to the Bay Area.
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Free agency strikes again as Ken Norton, Jr. teamed up with Lee Woodall in San Francisco’s linebacker corps to help Steve Young win his first Super Bowl.
Norton and Woodall were leaders on a defense that was sixth in the league in points allowed, and first in the league in point differential. Between them they had an All-Pro selection and five Pro Bowls.
This linebacker group didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, but their safeties, Merton Hanks and Tim McDonald, combined for nine interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns. How about that Eagles fans?
Dallas Cowboys: 1995
Edwards did enough to help bring another Super Bowl to Dallas.
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The Cowboys won their third Super Bowl of the '90s and once again they had Charles Haley, who was considered a defensive end. Without Haley at linebacker, they became just the second team to win a Super Bowl without one.
Darrin Smith, Dixon Edwards and Robert Jones were decent players and good athletes, but not great linebackers. Certainly they were better than any combination of Jamar Chaney, Moise Fokou, Brian Rolle, Akeem Jordan and Casey Matthews.
Interestingly enough, like the Redskins before them, the Cowboys had a punishing running game. Like San Francisco one year prior, they had great safeties in Woodson and Marion. It seems like it helps to have one of these positions covered.
Green Bay Packers: 1996
Despite not making a Pro Bowl, Harris and his teammates made a lot of plays.
For the first time in the Super Bowl era, consecutive teams won a championship without a single Pro Bowl linebacker.
Green Bay’s unit consisted of George Koonce, Bernardo Harris, Brian Williams and Wayne Simmons. They weren’t necessarily lackluster players, they just all had short, injury-riddled careers. Each had multiple 100-tackle, and multiple-sack seasons in Green Bay.
One more thing. The Packers had an All-Pro safety tandem in LeRoy Butler and Eugene Robinson. The two combined for 188 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 11 interceptions and a touchdown. Reggie White didn’t hurt either. Does consecutive seasons without a Pro Bowl linebacker prove it is becoming obsolete?
Denver Broncos: 1997-98
Romanowski's heart, toughness and leadership helped get the Broncos over the top.
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Finally, John Elway won a Super Bowl and he went ahead and won a second before he bucked off into the sunset. Aside from the superstardom of halfback Terrell Davis, the Broncos defense allowed them to become repeat champions.
The defense was led by linebackers Bill Romanowski and John Mobley. Mobely was an electrifying outside linebacker who made 132 tackles, with 4.0 sacks and a defensive touchdown. Romanowski was tough, physical and a defensive leader.
Mobley was first-team All-Pro once, and Romanowski was a two-time Pro Bowler, giving the Broncos a first-team All-Pro selection and two Pro Bowls.
St. Louis Rams: 1999
London Fletcher was an anchor for the Rams' Super Bowl Defense.
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Despite the fact that the Rams were one of the most famous offenses of all time, they had a playmaking, ball-hawking defense led by middle linebacker London Fletcher.
Fletcher recorded 90 tackles, 3.0 sacks and a safety. Outside linebacker Mike Jones had four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and three defensive touchdowns. On the other side, Charlie Clemons 3.0 sacks and an interception.
Only Fletcher went to a Pro Bowl, being voted in twice. Somehow, despite 13.5 sacks the following year, Charlie Clemons was never voted in. So that is a two-time Pro Bowl linebacker to close the decade.
Continuing the Trend
Nate Wayne was another poor attempt by the Philadelphia Eagles.
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So the 1990s came and went. Ten more Lombardi Trophies were awarded to seven different teams. Out of the 10 winners, only two won the Super Bowl without at least one Pro Bowl linebacker, and one of those teams had one, Charles Haley, playing defensive end.
Combined, the seven champions from the '90s fielded one Hall of Fame linebacker, 15 first-team All-Pros and 29 Pro Bowls. So clearly there is still a correlation between good linebackers and championship football.
Maybe tomorrow in the new century we will find out that linebackers became dinosaurs. Check back and see.