If you don’t exactly know what the Eagles’ defense is going to look like this year under Sean Desai, you’re not alone.
Neither do the Patriots. And that’s by design.
“I think anytime there's unknown that's an advantage,” Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said on Tuesday. “So, I always think that's why we were very vanilla in the preseason. We didn't want to show a lot of different things that we plan on doing during the season. Just like a first-year staff, we've got a first-year coordinator here with the Eagles. I think that's an advantage.”
The Eagles lost both of their coordinators from the 2022 season to head coaching jobs. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon took the head coaching job in Arizona and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen took the head gig in Indianapolis.
It’s probably safe to expect less change on offense, where the new hire was an internal promotion of Brian Johnson, 9 of 11 starters are back, and the scheme ultimately still belongs to Sirianni.
It’s a little different on defense.
While there are sure to be plenty of similarities between Gannon’s defense and Desai’s — the Eagles clearly want a certain style — there will be differences. While Gannon used some Vic Fangio principles in 2022, Desai actually worked closely with Fangio, something Desai brought up in his introductory press conference.
But Desai was a full-time defensive coordinator just once before. He held that job with the Bears in 2021 before spending the 2022 season on Pete Carroll’s staff in Seattle. The Bears had the NFL’s No. 6 ranked defense in 2021 but the personnel in Philly is much different.
There were a few fun hints as to what we might see from Desai’s defense in training camp. We saw a ton of nickel fronts, some three-safety looks, unique blitzes with linebackers and stand-up edge rushers. In the preseason, the Eagles were extremely vanilla, though, and most of what we’ll see from Desai’s unit hasn’t yet been unveiled. We won’t know exactly how Desai plans on unleashing his tools until he’s put in those situations.
And that will make this week of prep a little tricky for the Patriots, who host the Eagles on Sunday afternoon at 4:25 in the opener.
“That’s always part of the challenge in the opening game,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said to New England reporters on Monday. “You know, we’ll have to see. We’re certainly aware of what [Desai] done in the past.
“Also, what the Eagles did last year. They obviously had a lot of success with it. [Matt Patricia is] there as a consultant so there could be some ideas coming in there. Obviously, a lot of this wasn’t shown in preseason. They were pretty vanilla in preseason. So we’ll have to be prepared. We’ll see how it goes.”
The Eagles hired Patricia as a senior defensive assistant this offseason. Sirianni has been picking the brain of the long-time Belichick assistant for any knowledge he can glean about Belichick and all the success he’s had in New England.
“Of course, you're going to look for every advantage you can get,” Sirianni said. “And that's what we're doing this week.”
Sirianni tried to compare their situation at defensive coordinator to the Patriots’ situation at offensive coordinator, but it’s a bit different.
Desai has never coached in Philly before this season and 2023 will be just his second season as an NFL defensive coordinator. The Patriots this offseason brought back Bill O’Brien to be their offensive coordinator. O’Brien was the OC in New England back in 2011 and while he hasn’t coached there in over a decade, he did run his offensive scheme for seven seasons as the head coach of the Texans and at his college stops at Penn State and Alabama.
“There's a lot of film there, but it's the same thing,” Sirianni said. “I think definitely not knowing is an advantage. So obviously both sides have that going on right now.”