New Eagles DC Sean Desai is making the most out of who is available on game days

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)

Can a defensive unit be truly upgraded when a new play-caller is in tow after losing five starters during the offseason? Sean Desai and the Eagles are showing that it can be done in more ways than one.

After a season in which they set a franchise record in sacks, and were among the top in most statistical categories, most understood that it would be hard for the defense to match the numbers in the next year against a tougher schedule. It was deemed almost impossible when free agents like TJ Edwards, Javon Hargrave, and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson all left for other teams.

Chauncey Gardner-johnson
GLENDALE, AZ – FEBRUARY 12: Philadelphia Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (23) flexes during Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles on February 12, 2023 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

Yet through three weeks to start the season, the Eagles have been a dynamic defensive unit. Their rankings may be significantly lower than they were last year against the pass (25th this year to 1st last year), but numbers don’t tell the whole story.

When it comes to Desai, the changes to the defense this season have made it much easier to watch the unit as a whole in 2023.

Through three games, Desai’s defense is ranked first against the run, and 12th in yards allowed. The reason for both? A strong unit up front that has changed the way opposing offenses attack the Eagles.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 30: Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Jordan Davis (90) rushes during the game between the Pittsburg Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles on October 30, 2022 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

“There is a certain mentality that we want to play with and a certain aggression level and physical level we want to play with, and it starts there. It translates to the back end,” Desai said. “It becomes contagious and everybody sees the product of when you play a certain way, you can eliminate part of a game for an offense.”

Arguably the most impressive part of the Eagles’ defense through three weeks has been the fact they have managed to stay successful with a plethora of injuries in the secondary and linebacker rooms. Nakobe Dean, Sydney Brown, James Bradberry, Avonte Maddox, Zech McPhearson, and Justin Evans have all missed significant times so far this season. Philadelphia’s defense has still been able to dominate in key moments to start the season.

“We want to swarm. We want bodies to the ball. You’re seeing some of that and that’s how takeaways happen. Good things happen when we run to the ball. We want big men running out of the stack. We want guys from the back side of the field coming. We want people to be at the ball. We want a lot of jerseys on the screen, and that’s part of people feeling us,” Desai explained.

Of course, having a top-10 player like Jalen Carter coming in and altering games certainly helps any new coordinator.

Eagles jalen carter
Philadelphia Eagles first round draft pick Jalen Carter, from the University of Georgia, takes questions from the media during NFL rookie football minicamp, Friday, May 5, 2023, in Philadelphia. Victoria S. Bowles, who was seriously injured in the January car crash that killed Georgia offensive lineman Devin Willock and an athletics staffer, has sued the school’s athletics association and former Bulldogs defensive tackle Jalen Carter for damages. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Carter’s entrance to Philadelphia was anything but smooth. The Georgia Bulldog had to answer questions about his involvement in the car accident that killed a teammate and member of the program back in January. Since coming to the Eagles though, he has found comfort in playing with other players from Georgia’s program like Jordan Davis and Dean.

It helped allow the Eagles to show the best parts of Carter on the field, not just off.

“That’s kind of the emphasis with him, with Coach Rocker and him, is keep developing him every day with the details and the fundamentals we want to teach him that will help magnify his skillsets that he brings,” Desai said.

Desai’s shown the ability to get the most out of any particular player. When Dean went down on IR after Week 1, the Eagles found quality replacements in Nicholas Morrow and Zach Cunningham. Both have helped solidify the run defense and have been very solid against the pass.

He’s also shown the ability to adapt on the fly to different circumstances. When the Eagles were down their top two slot corners, the team seamlessly moved Bradberry inside to prepare for Tampa Bay.

The Eagles’ defense dominated the Bucs to a 25-11 win.

It was the kind of game that showed that Desai it not unwilling to make moves on the fly to benefit the long-term plans of the defense. With a coach open to adapting on the fly, and a defense with a tenacious front four, the Eagles can still be considered a top unit even without all of their pieces healthy at this time.

Can the defense continue to play at a high level with so many injuries? That remains to be seen. It is evident, however, that the upgrade at defensive coordinator is already lightyears better than where the team was at this point even last season.

Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire