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Nick Sirianni talks Eagles’ defensive struggles, harsher messaging to reduce penalties

Plus, the head coach points to some areas he’d like to see Jalen Hurts continue to improve.

Eagles’ head coach Nick Sirianni spoke to reporters on Monday after having a chance to review the film from Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs, and he talked a bit about Miles Sanders’ work load, what he’s seeing from the team’s defense, as well as how his messaging has gotten harsher about the need to reduce penalties. Sirianni also detailed some areas he’d still like to see Jalen Hurts improve, and why one of those areas is more of a group effort.

Here’s what the head coach had to say:

On the offensive line

Sirianni wouldn’t say whether they expect Lane Johnson back at practice this week, and only repeated that he’s dealing with a personal matter. The head coach did point out that Jack Driscoll and Nate Herbig both graded really high from their performances on Sunday, so they were happy with how those two stepped in and played.

On Miles Sanders’ work load

“Sometimes with us in our run game, we’re reading things, right? It’s a read where Jalen [Hurts] can run it, a read where he can pull it. There’s more calls to Miles than are showing up on the stat sheet. I think you guys understand that. Sometimes the defense dictates – just like a receiver that you plan to go downfield with, you want to throw it to him, but the defense dictates what it gives you.

That’s the style of offense that we run and that we play, is we try to keep a guy unblocked at times and we read them, sometimes he gets touches based off what the defense is playing, sometimes he doesn’t.

There’s not – we have the ultimate confidence in Miles. You saw what he did when he got a couple touches out in space the other day with those two plus-10-yard gains he had on catches. Again, it’s nothing that he’s doing. It’s just, the reads are taking the quarterback other places with the ball. But we look forward to getting him going in our offense more.”

On the Eagles’ defense

Sirianni was asked specifically about the Eagles run defense and how many yards they’ve given up the past couple weeks, and he accepted some of the blame. He said that as the head coach, he’s ultimately the one in charge of the whole team, but they as coaches need to do a better job of getting the players in positions to succeed. He did note that execution needs to be better, as well.

“When you’re playing a little bit more middle field open coverages like we’re playing, we got to be able to do some more things with the front, be able to change some things on the front and create a couple of issues for the offense so they can’t just run it when you’re in those middle field opens.”

Sirianni went on to explain that when they’re in some of the middle field open coverages, the big pass plays get limited, but if they aren’t doing the right things up front, than the run game can be susceptible. He acknowledged that anytime a team runs for 200 yards, you have to look at the coaching first, and they were really critical of themselves during their Monday meetings.

The head coach said he’s still very confident in defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, and the defense looked good the first two weeks against Atlanta and San Francisco. But, he admitted that coming off games where the defense allowed 35 point and 42 points, respectively, that’s not good enough. Sirianni said, though, that he still has confidence in the defensive coaching and players and knows they’ll be able to turn things around.

Later, Sirianni was asked about Fletcher Cox and his performance so far this season, and he admitted that, similar to offense, they have to do a better job of letting their playmakers make plays. So, they need to do some different things to free Cox up.

“I have also said this before, I do believe this as well, there’s a lot of attention going to Fletch. It’s freeing up Javon [Hargrave] on the other side. It’s freeing up some other guys to make plays. Javon has done a really good job of making plays. Our linebackers have to continue to do their part of this, too. When Fletch gets double-teamed, Javon has to make a play, the linebacker has to make a play. We got to do more to get him singled a little bit more, but we also got to make the plays with the players when they’re not singled, and it be able to flow and get to the football.

Again, I still believe, I know the stats aren’t there, but I know he’s changing the game — he’s doing things to help us even though the stats aren’t there. But like I said, we have to make sure we’re allowing him to eat as well.”

On penalties

It was pointed out that over 60 percent of the penalties are coming from guys with three or more years experience, and Sirianni acknowledged that the flags are impacting games and it’s something they talk about a lot. He noted that it’s his job to get the team better in every aspect and penalties are an issue for them right now, but that the messaging has gotten harsher this week as they emphasize that they need to stop.

“I’m not sure there’s many teams spending as much time on this as we are. But here’s the thing, we know – when you have penalties called on you and when you’re committing penalties, because we’re committing them, it’s not like we’re – they’re happening and we’re doing them. When that’s happening, right, it kind of can snowball into a sense that – the referees next time or the coaching staff next time is going to come out and tell you, ‘Hey, these guys have an issue with this. They’re off-sides here, they do these things a lot.’ Now they’re looking for that thing.”

The head coach also pointed out that opponents can use their penchant for penalties as an advantage, and throw in more hard counts, and other things to trip them up.

On Jalen Hurts

Following Sunday’s loss, Sirianni noted that Jalen Hurts’ performance was one of the best he’s seen from a quarterback — going back to his days with the Colts and Chargers. The head coach was asked what the young quarterback needs to work on to be even better.

He emphasized that what he saw from Hurts on Sunday was consistency, and that was what impressed him most against the Chiefs, that he continually made good plays and decisions with the football, was accurate with throws, and made some scrambles when he needed to.

“I still want him – we’ve talked about this before, there was a time or two where I was like, ‘Stay in that pocket and rip that thing here before you escape over here to the other side.’

Again, I know what his strengths are, too. I don’t want to cage him up on that. I don’t want to put anything on him that stops him from making plays. There’s a fine line there.”

Another thing the head coach pointed out was that Hurts has to run on scrambles a lot, but they need to make some big plays in those situations — although, he noted, that those are a product of all skill players to work to get open while Hurts is scrambling. Sirianni said that is an area they need to practice more so that it translates on game day.

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