The Eagles defense started off pretty strong in the early games of the 2023 season, with new DC Sean Desai wanting the group to be felt on the field and through TV screens. He emphasized players swarming the ball, getting off blocks, and mentioned several times that guys had to earn the run to rush the passer by first taking away the run game.
There were a lot of highlights, until there weren’t. The defense not only lulled in the second-quarter of the season, the wheels fell completely off when they failed to stop almost every single third down conversion through two games.
At that point, instead of letting Desai right the ship, head coach Nick Sirianni made the call to give the defense over to assistant Matt Patricia, and relegate Desai upstairs in the box.
Not only did things not get better, but the defense became chaotic, filled with communication issues, and some pretty terrible play calls. The Eagles defense still struggled on third downs and got considerably worse in the run game. Patricia also had Haason Reddick dropping back in coverage more than someone with his pass rushing ability should be.
Still, Patricia and Sirianni both spoke at their press conferences about how they weren’t asking players to do too much differently. Patricia had been with the team all offseason and season, so he had helped install Desai’s defense, and talked about the balance of knowing what and how much to change. The coaches repeatedly downplayed just how big of a challenge it would be for the players to handle a DC change mid-season.
After refusing to speak to reporters after the Cardinals game, Reddick finally took questions at his locker the following week, and talked about how difficult it really was to adjust to a new playcaller. From how the plays were called and communicated, to the language Patricia used and how he wanted things done, there were a lot of changes. Reddick admitted that it wasn’t as much a struggle for a veteran like him — someone who has played for a new DC nearly every year in the league —, but that for younger guys it was a big learning curve.
“It’s hard. It’s a hard thing to do. But, it’s our job at the end of the day, so it’s no complaints about it.
But, it’s definitely a hard thing, right. You spent so much time with one DC, and a new DC at that, at the beginning of the year, and trying to learn everything he wants us to do, his terminology, the way that he calls things, and then towards the end of the season, we switch.”
Darius Slay had a similar view on the situation. The CB spoke to reporters during locker clean-out day, and explained how having two different DCs was like dating two different women who liked things two different ways. Slay also wouldn’t even attempt to guess what would happen with the DC role this offseason, but did admit that former Eagles DB coach Dennard Wilson would’ve been better than both Desai and Patricia in 2023.
The disconnect between the coaches and players with how much changing DCs affected the defense is startling. Either the players didn’t speak up about their struggles — which were obvious on the field — or the coaches down-played their concerns and, in turn, threw them under the bus publicly.
It was clear almost immediately that changing the defensive coordinator wasn’t going to magically fix the defense, but instead of acknowledging the growing pains that would come along with that move, the coaches told fans that it wasn’t a big deal.
The Eagles are out of time to try and fix things this season, so hopefully this offseason they can get back to listening to their players and doing what’s best for the defense based on the skillsets of the guys they have in the building. (Or at least give the next DC a whole season to try and enact his vision.)