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Sean Desai talks Eagles third down deficiencies, rookie contributions, and more

The Eagles DC spoke to reporters about the defense’s Achilles heal, and why everything starts with the play calling.

The Eagles are deep into preparation for the Seahawks this week, a team Sean Desai is familiar with having come from Seattle last season. The DC spoke to reporters on Wednesday about what he learned in his one season under Pete Carroll, as well as how the Eagles are planning to get better on third downs and in red zone situations.

Here’s what Philly’s defensive coordinator had to say:


On rookie contributions

Desai talked about rookies Kelee Ringo and Nolan Smith earning more playing time from their special teams reps and what they’ve done in practice.

“I think you see some quickness and speed from both of them. Some switch at the point of attack, and the ability for Kelee [Ringo] to get out there and challenge and do some things there, which was nice. Try to use his length to his advantage.

And then Nolan [Smith], obviously, has been physical at the point of attack, and you see his athleticism as well. So I think those guys are growing and learning the defense. They keep getting better, and the coaches are doing a good job developing them.”

On third down struggles

The DC talked about their inability to get off the field on third down, and he said that it’s not exactly one issue, but rather different things that have happened in each game, and each situation.

“Obviously, it always starts with the play call. You can always reflect and put them in a better situation after you see the play of what the route is and how you want to match that route differently based on the coverage in the system we got up that week.

And then I think there are some other finer details we want to keep refining to try to help our guys be in better positions to go win those situations.”

It was pointed out that the Eagles defense is second in the league at first and second-down sacks, and was asked why that hasn’t translated to third downs, as well. Desai explained that’s something they’re looking into, but again it starts with the play calling.

“You have to continue to be aggressive and find spots and matchups that you like to be able to win on those situations.

And then we’re obviously cognizant of time to throw and different situations that show up there. That’s a function of rush and coverage working together with the play call. You got to get the quarterbacks off the spot, buy some time in the coverage, and then we got to win when we get some matchups up front consistently. We have to keep working to improve there.”

He later admitted that third down and redzone situations have been their Achilles heal, but he feels good about how their approaching getting that fixed, and their process. Desai noted that they were really good on third downs early in the season, but when they regressed in that area, that’s when the play counts increase and they aren’t able to get the ball to the offense as much as needed.

On the outside criticism

“That’s part of the job. There is always going to be criticism. Go back every week of this season there was criticism based on different things that happened in the game. When you play a couple games the way we have, not the performance or the standard we want to, that’s going to magnify and amplify. I get it. That’s okay.

Everybody, fans, [media], everybody is entitled to their opinions. What we have to do is just lean into each other and really focus on our process and getting better.

At the end of the day, from what we want to what everybody else wants in this city, is to win, right? And we found ways to win to get us to the point we are. We’re not where we want to be. We’re still growing to get where we want to be. We feel good about doing that and working together to achieve our goals still.”

On his coaching experience with the Seahawks

Desai talked about his one year as DC in Seattle, saying he has a lot of respect for Pete Carroll and how he coaches the team, and he learned a lot that year. Teams evolve every week and every year, so he will lean into his experience going against the Seahawks’ offense everyday, but knows there’s only so much to put into that experience.

Still, he was able to see guys like DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett up close, and was able to see how they’re being taught. Desai said that the Eagles’ DBs are looking forward to the challenge, and will try to minimize the separation for which the pair is known.

“DK is big, fast, physical and can have a big catch radius and win a lot of different ways on the field. Tyler, I said this when I got there, to me he was one of the most underrated wide receivers in the league. Really savvy in terms of how he can run routes and win to his leverage. He’s got a good catch radius for his size and quickness and speed as well.

Those guys are really good, professional receivers and they do a good job at their craft. We will have a good challenge ahead of us and we’re looking forward to it.”

Other notables

  • Desai disagreed with comments post-game made by Josh Sweat alluding to the group not play team defense. The DC said that it was a frustrating loss, and a frustrating way to go down, but the bright spot is that they’ve had success this year, so it’s about going back to what worked and finding ways to improve.
  • He was asked about the 4th-and-2 call in the first quarter, with two high safeties dropping and then the Cowboys handing the ball off. Desai said Dallas was 100 percent pass in those situations based on the tape, so he felt like they had a call ready for that situation. The broke the tendency and it was a good play call versus a good play call, which is going to happen — although he admitted that any call that doesn’t work is one he’d like to change.
  • As for their lack of interceptions this season, the DC said that it was a combination of luck and scheming guys to be in positions to make those plays. They’ve had some opportunities they didn’t capitalize on, and some balls just didn’t tip their way. Desai noted, however, that they’ve done a good job with tackling and forcing fumbles, which has helped compensate for the lack of interceptions.

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