The Eagles’ defense hasn’t been good lately but defensive coordinator Sean Desai is confident they can turn things around.
On Wednesday, the Eagles’ somewhat beleaguered first-year coordinator was asked why he was confident his unit would be able to fix some of the issues that have plagued it in recent weeks.
“I know the people in the building,” Desai said. “I know the culture we have, the personnel we have, the leaders we have on defense. Everyone is excited about the opportunity in front of us.”
“The great thing is that we still have all the goals to achieve. We have to really rely on that. We learn from our past. The good and the bad in the past. Then we have to move forward and take on all our responsibilities and roles and master them.”
While the Eagles were able to keep up the pace and beat the Bills in late November, the Eagles’ defense is coming off a tough three games. In the last three weeks the Eagles have given up 109 points (36.3) and 1,355 scrimmage yards (451.7).
This is not great.
If you break down their performance further, there are some specific areas of concern:
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni always plays situational football and his defense has been poor in some key areas.
“I think we weren’t at the right time,” Desai said. “We couldn’t get off the field when we needed to get off the field. Yeah, on third down and situational football, we’ve got to be better on third down in the red zone. That’s been our scary stuff. I’m not going to lie to you. That’s been the Heel.” Our Achilles now.
The most obvious area the Eagles need to improve is on third down. They have the worst third-down defense in the NFL, giving up conversions on 48.1% of their third-down snaps on the season. But it’s been much worse over the last three games, when they’ve given up conversions on 61.2% of their third-down snaps.
The Eagles were also terrible in the red zone. They have the third-worst red zone defense in the NFL, giving up touchdowns on 70.5% on trips inside the 20-yard line. In the last three weeks, the Eagles have given up touchdowns 11 of the 12 times they’ve allowed teams to get into the red zone.
“I feel really good about where we’re going,” Desai said. “I feel really good about our planning process going into this, the mindset of our players going into this situation, and being able to put players in the right positions to win these things.
“Again, we won a lot of third downs early in the year. We haven’t been able to do that this year. That hurts us as a defense. It increases our plays. But it hurts us as a team. Our job as a defense is to get the ball back to the offense as quickly as we can, and it didn’t We can do this effectively enough.
Not only did the Eagles not force punts, they didn’t force any turnovers either, meaning they gave up a lot of long drives.
The Eagles rank 21st in the NFL in takeaways and 29th in interceptions. They have just six interceptions all season. The Eagles finally had a big fumble recovery against the Cowboys but haven’t had an interception in the last two losses.
This season, Darius Slay and Reid Blankenship have two interceptions each, while James Bradberry and Kevin Byard each have one interception. That’s it.
On Tuesday, Desai was asked if interceptions are a stat played by luck or a function of the scheme.
“Maybe a little bit of all of that,” Desai said. “In my experience, it’s probably a little bit of all of that. I think we had some opportunities that we didn’t take, and some of them are definitely scheme-related things where players can be in better places to see the ball and make plays with the ball. Some balls you have to turn your way around and do that.”
“So, I think it’s a combination of all of that and we’ve got to keep leaning in and finding ways to grab that ball in the air. We did a good job in terms of tackling and forcing the fumble, so we were able to compensate that way. Obviously. [Fletcher Cox] He had a huge one in the game as well. It was really good there. As far as interceptions, we have to continue to learn and find ways to put our guys in positions to make plays.
Last season, the Eagles ranked fifth in the NFL in total takeaways (27) and also fifth in interceptions (17). Safety CJ Gardner Johnson had six interceptions last season, the most for the Eagles as a team through 13 games in 2023.
Play and invite
While Sirianni expressed confidence in Desai on Tuesday, Desai took responsibility for some of those defensive issues.
It all starts with the play calls, Desai said Wednesday. This means that it all starts with him. And it wasn’t good enough.
Earlier this week, a fan stood outside the NovaCare complex holding a “Fire Sean Desai” sign. While this hasn’t made the Eagles too happy, the criticism directed at the defensive coordinator is certainly warranted. This defense may be a bit short on talent, but Desai is no longer getting the most out of them like he did earlier this season.
So he understands this criticism.
“That’s part of the job. There’s always going to be criticism,” Desai said. “Going back to every week of this season, there’s been criticism based on different things that happened in the game. When you play some games the way we have, and not the performance or level we want, that will magnify and magnify. I get it. that’s ok. Everyone, fans, guys, everyone is entitled to their opinion. What we have to do is just lean on each other and really focus on our process and getting better.
“At the end of the day, from what we want to what everyone in this city wants, is winning, right? And we found ways to win to get us to where we are. We’re not where we want to be. We’re still growing to get to where we want to be. We feel good “Towards doing that and working together to achieve our goals.”
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