The Eagles defense is about to get even more explosive with Sean Desai at the wheel

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Eagles jalen carter
Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) waves to the crowd before the national championship NCAA College Football Playoff game between Georgia and TCU, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, projected as one of the top players in next month’s NFL draft, has been charged with reckless driving and racing in conjunction with the crash that killed offensive lineman Devin Willock and a recruiting staff member.(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The Philadelphia Eagles made the Super Bowl last season and while the defense looked brilliant statistically throughout the impressive campaign, the eye test often told a different story. The good news is that Jonathan Gannon is now out of town and Sean Desai will be tasked with transforming the unit.

With every new defensive scheme change comes an opportunity for new breakout stars. Brandon Graham’s entire career trajectory changed after a fresh set of philosophies changed up the defense. Darius Slay was a huge beneficiary of Jonathan Gannon’s scheme after having a fairly under-the-radar debut season under Jim Schwartz. There are countless examples of players who may not be dream fits in one scheme who thrive in another, but which players are best-positioned for success under Sean Desai?

Sean Desai’s philosophies

Before we can speculate on which players will be the best fits for Sean Desai to mold, we first need to understand how his brain works. His scheme is very similar to that of Vic Fangio in ways that Jonathan Gannon’s didn’t. Sure, both had the same chassis, but the engine is very different under Desai’s tutelage.

Don’t expect a ton of blitzing. I know, it feels like a given that Philadelphia defenses must play at a billion miles per hour and launch the kitchen sink consistently, but Desai is a different animal.

His Bears defense ranked 29th in bltizing, while his Seahawks defense ranked 31st.

That Bears team ranked 6th in sacks per game, and the Seahawks ranked 10th.

Gannon’s downfall was an inability to generate pressure without blitzing. What Desai does so well is line his defense up in a ton of false fronts. He’s not afraid to call stunts, twists, and rely on positionless football to confuse an offensive line while creating a window of opportunity for a certain kind of play.

CHICAGO, IL – AUGUST 21: Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai looks on during a preseason game between the Chicago Bears and the Buffalo Bills on August 21, 2021 at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

The main differences come in the way the formations are built. Gannon was notorious for lacking pressure and holding the Dogs back, so to speak. Desai’s scheme lends itself more naturally to the pass-rushers wreaking havoc with plenty of misdirection and mixed fronts to provide that opportunity.

Exotic fronts being complemented by stunts and twists is what allows Desai’s defense to consistently penetrate offensive lines, and the Eagles have some of the best players imaginable to filter into these gameplans.

Let Sean Desai cook

Let’s take Nolan Smith and Jalen Carter for example. It’s more than just a coincidence that the two were teammates at Georgia prior to being drafted by the Eagles.

The stunt below (first clip) shows how former Eagle Robert Quinn was able to sneak inside here while Kahlil Mack takes the attention of the LG and LT. What about the Center? He had his hands full with a space-eating defensive tackle.

Jalen Carter’s power and burst make him a prime candidate to play over the B/C gaps, while Nolan Smith can be ’stacked’ behind him, or play off the edge. Jordan Davis has the requisite power and strength to hold the fort and keep that window open for a penetrative pass-rusher, be it Smith or someone like Reddick/Sweat to get home.

This is only one example, but it’s the premise that matters. Desai uses a lot of ’false fronts’ where he has players lined up every gap and a half as simply opposed to every gap/player. This often means there will be defenders lining up on the outside shoulder of a teammate, ready to loop or in some cases, track back into coverage in a double head-fake while another central linebacker comes down into the now vacated gap.

Newly drafted Philadelphia Eagles’ Nolan Smith, right, and Jalen Carter speak during a news conference at the NFL football team’s training facility, Friday, April 28, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Why is this so exciting for Eagles fans?

It’s easy to forget just how much talent this Eagles defense has. Without mentioning Fletcher Cox, who does most of his best work away from the stat sheet these days, and Brandon Graham who enjoyed a comeback season like no other in 2022, it’s already easy to salivate over the possibilities of organic pressure being generated without having to compensate on the back end.

It’s also easy to forget that his stint as Chicago’s defensive coordinator was littered with injuries and a lack of talent. At times, Robert Quinn was the only guy who could get to the quarterback and he still found a way to get Quinn in a position to make plays. In fact, the veteran broke Chicago’s single-season sack record under his tutelage.

If we compare that level of play to let’s say, Haason Reddick, it’s easy to once again to begin rubbing hands together in anticipation. Reddick may be the NFL’s most explosive pass-rusher as of right now and if Jonathan Gannon can draw up ways to let him feast, imagine what a scheme with actual nuance could do for him.

The Bulldogs are hungry

The scheme will also benefit the other Georgia players on this defense. Nakobe Dean, who is the presumed MLB going into 2023, will have plenty of opportunities to feast alongside Nolan Smith. With Smith’s versatility as a Haason Reddick lite, the Eagles may well decide to start toying with the idea of hybrid linebackers in some packages.

A JACK is essentially what Reddick was to the Eagles in 2022. He can be stacked up on the shoulder of an edge-rusher, put his hand in the dirt, or drop back into coverage. He has the power to take on linemen and the agility to sift inside like the play we mentioned earlier. (Nolan Smith)

The Eagles had a defense filled with elite talent last year, but a coordinator that lacked the attention to detail that Desai does. Now, while some of that elite talent has departed, it’s been replaced with versatile athletes who have already experienced a multitude of roles during their time under Kirby Smart.

The Philadelphia Bulldogs memes might be funny, but no opposing fans will be laughing when seeing a blur of midnight green jerseys swarming the pocket during a moment of coordinated chaos…and that’s where Sean Desai’s value truly is – as the composer of chaos.

AP Photo/Ashley Landis