Eagles coordinators Brian Johnson, Sean Desai, and Michael Clay met the media on Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex as the team prepares to play at Seattle on Monday night. Here is what they had to say ...
Sean Desai: We need to be better on third down, in red zone
How can the defense take a step forward in terms of its performance in Seattle? Defensive Coordinator Sean Desai says it comes down to this: Take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.
"I think it's just we have been inopportune. We have not been able to get off the field when we need to get off the field. Yeah, in third down and situational football we got to be better, third down, red zone. Those have been our bugaboos. Not going to lie to you. That's been our Achilles heel right now," Desai said. "I feel really good about where we're going with it, feel really good about our planning process towards it, and our players' mentality in approaching that situation, being able to put guys in spots to go win those.
"Again, we won a lot of third downs early in the year. We just haven't been able to do that this year. That's hurting us as a defense. Increases our play counts. But it hurts us as a team. Our job as a defense is to get the ball back to the offense as fast as we can, and we haven't been able to do that effectively enough."
To get off the field in Seattle, the Eagles will have to do a good job against an excellent set of receivers – DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Desai coached in Seattle last year and knows Metcalf and Lockett and the challenges they bring to the table.
"I think our defensive backs are looking forward to the challenge, and we'll do a good job of holding up against that. Both those guys are professionals and have such different traits how they get open. It was good to be able to see them in person and how they're being coached and what they're being taught," Desai said. "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."
Brian Johnson: Finishing drives is an emphasis
It starts out so well, and in the last two weeks against San Francisco and Dallas, early drives have ended short of what the Eagles desire. They want touchdowns, of course, and against San Francisco (field goals on the opening two drives) and Dallas (a giveaway) first-quarter drives have ended in frustrating fashion.
That has to change, says Offensive Coordinator Brian Johnson.
"You want to go down and score your first drive," he said. "I think the last two games we have moved the ball down there and haven't finished, whether we had an opportunity for a first-and-goal at the 6- or 5-yard line and got a penalty and then we end up turning the ball over.
"But the previous game I think we drove down there and did not finish in the red zone. Ended up kicking field goals. You do want to attack, be aggressive, and you want to try to jump out to a lead. So that's something that we haven't been able to do in the past couple games. We have to get it corrected."
The Eagles didn't score an offensive touchdown in Dallas, so Johnson and the offensive coaches are looking for solutions, both believing in the process they've had the last three seasons and also evaluating everything as they move forward. Seattle, Johnson said, has a well-coached, disciplined defense with a great home crowd, so Monday night will be a true test.
"We have had a ton of success here throughout the course of the two and a half or three years we've been here," Johnson said. "I think Nick (Sirianni, head coach) gave a great message at that point in 2021. We were 2-5 and he talked about doubling down on our process and sticking true to what we believe.
"I think that's very, very important and important lesson to take when you're in a process-driven profession, but it's really ultimately results-based. When the results don't match your process for two weeks in a row, you still need to evaluate and still need to try to find new and creative ways to do things and put the guys in the best spots to go out there and execute the plan each and every week.
"It is definitely a balance. We know what we have, and we know what guys do really, really well. Guys have done some of that stuff really, really well, and we got to continue to do that and complement it and to put them in the best spots to be successful."
Michael Clay: Anatomy of a perfect fake punt
Give the Eagles credit for bringing in punter Braden Mann early this season: He's been outstanding punting the football and on Sunday night he connected with wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus on a 26-yard pass to convert a fourth down. It was a brilliant play – a product of film review by the coaches who saw something in the Dallas punt return team that indicated that a good throw from Mann would give Zaccheaus a chance to make the catch and gain the first down.
It was perfection all around, and Special Teams Coordinator Michael Clay made sure to spread around the credit.
"(Special Teams Assistant) Tyler Brown and (Assistant Special Teams Coordinator) Joe Pannunzio do an awesome job of getting everybody ready throughout the weeks," Clay said. "It's just something you come up with, or you see something even from around the league, you see things of what's going on. On Mondays, I watch every snap of every game around the NFL. I just try to get a pulse of the flavor of the year in terms of the whole NFL.
"But it was just something we saw, something we thought, 'All right, we got a guy that can throw. All these gunners do a great job.' It starts on Wednesday with Tyler going through his meeting, how detailed his meeting is and just an opportunity to go, 'Hey, if we get this opportunity, let's not be afraid of it. Let's detail up. Let's execute it. Let's make sure that we're all on the same page.' So, it takes a whole group effort. It's not just one guy like, 'Hey, just throwing it up there.' It was all of us communicating it out, making sure we felt good about it. Like I said before, those 11 guys are the guys out there on Sundays or Mondays or whenever we're playing and they got to execute, and they did a heck of a job executing it. The detail was perfect. Braden laid it out there. O.Z. made a heck of a catch, secured the ball, and flip of the field."
The special teams have been outstanding this season, with another tough matchup ahead on Monday night in Seattle. The work to win against the Seahawks continues.