Throughout the Super Bowl era of pro football, the coach-quarterback combination has always been the most important component in championship teams.
From the very first one (Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr) to the most recent (Bill Belichick and Tom Brady), this has been the strongest common denominator. Consider that no head coach has ever won a Super Bowl with more than one team, and only one quarterback, Peyton Manning, has accomplished it.
That brings us to the new-look Philadelphia Eagles (8-1), best team in the NFL by any and all measurements, under second-year man Doug Pederson, who has never coached a game not started by Carson Wentz.
This is a relationship that seemingly grows stronger by the minute and represents the first and most important box that must be checked by any championship squad.
The others: a solid and fundamentally sound defense (check), an offense that travels well (check), a dependable kicking game and special teams (check), character (check), drive (check), a respected coaching staff (check), a personnel staff that understands proper fits (check) and a unified locker room (check).
You put all those together, and as we approach mid-November, you are staring at the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Shotgun wedding: And to think, Pederson and Wentz were originally paired in a shotgun wedding by executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman at the start of last season.
It’s not that Pederson didn’t want Wentz on his team, he just didn’t want him running his offense right away. But he was forced to adjust when Roseman traded Sam Bradford to Minnesota eight days before last year’s season opener.
That’s OK, though. He seems to have adjusted the way Belichick did when he lost his first choice, Drew Bledsoe.
Pederson and Wentz have been together for 25 games now, winning 15, including their last seven.
Two pros: The adjustment period — Pederson to his first head-coaching job in the NFL and Wentz to running an NFL team after four years at FCS North Dakota State — is long over, and what we’re looking at now are two pros in every sense of the word.
From what we can tell this season, they won’t be outworked and will always be 100 percent prepared for every opponent, thanks to Wentz’s willingness and ability to process everything the coaches throw at him.
The trust level already has been maximized, which will keep this window for winning open a long time, providing there are no catastrophic injuries on the horizon.
Trust in Wentz: Pederson on Monday was asked about that relationship and about how the staff is open to input from Wentz when putting together the weekly game plans and everything else.
“The way I trust Carson right now is because of the way he studies and prepares,” Pederson said. “If he were just coming to me out of the blue just pulling things from the air, it would be a little different.
“But I know if he comes to me, it's well thought out and it's because he’s studied the film like we have as coaches, and so it warrants a discussion and a look to see if that change is valuable to the game plan.”
Wentz having MVP season: Already this is a Grade A relationship with an obvious abundance of talent in the prodigious Wentz.
Wentz’s 23 TD passes are the most by an Eagle through nine games, and he’s the youngest NFL quarterback since 1950 to throw 23 or more touchdowns and five or fewer interceptions through nine games. He’s on pace to be named the NFL MVP.
That he’s the front-runner has to do with all those other ingredients the team has added.
The Eagles on Sunday ran for nearly 200 yards on Denver, the league’s second-best rushing defense. They did this without their best and most versatile running back, Darren Sproles, long since gone to season-ending injuries; their leading receiver, tight end Zach Ertz; and their Hall of Fame-bound left tackle, Jason Peters, also lost for the season.
Given the way they have reacted to other injuries this season, that probably shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Team is deep and balanced: Fact is, this team is deep, plays together, has the most balanced roster in the league and has covered up its areas of perceived weakness (cornerback, running back) so efficiently that now they’re strengths.
And this was before trading for running back Jay Ajayi last Tuesday.
After limiting the Broncos to 35 rushing yards, they own the league’s best run defense.
Sure sounds like a team that travels well, not that it will need to in the postseason. The Eagles obviously are on pace with the league’s best record to own homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
They are in this position not because of luck or the way their schedule has shaken out or anything like that.
They’re at the top because they check all the boxes, starting with the most important one, which figures to remain checked for a long time to come.