There have been some good things – an interception for a touchdown in the opening game at New England, six takeaways in the two wins – and there have been some things to clean up in the Eagles' 2-0 start. Defensive Coordinator Sean Desai is still learning his personnel, adjusting to some injuries, and preparing for a Tampa Bay offense that has been explosive, efficient, and productive in its unbeaten first two weeks.
Everything is fluid, and trending in the right direction, as Desai sees it.
"It's early. I'm proud of our guys," Desai said on Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex. "I think they have demonstrated a level of physicality and consistency and relentless effort, and those things are palpable that people can feel. They've gotten after the ball. They've created disruption, they created havoc, and I'm proud of them for doing that.
"Does that mean we're the final product yet? Not close. I think our guys know that also. That's OK. It's Week 2 and we're getting better, and we want to keep rising with our level of play and get humming when it's time to hum. And we will. We're going to get there. Each week we're going to make progress and progress and get better, and then we're going to go. I think we're getting there. We're going to continue to get better. I am proud of how they have been felt, and I think they're going to continue to raise that level also."
There are some questions to answer with this defense, notably how to replace nickel cornerback Avonte Maddox, who was placed on Injured Reserve on Wednesday. There are options, as Head Coach Nick Sirianni said earlier in the week, and Desai is considering all of them. That includes sliding veteran James Bradberry inside. Bradberry worked in the slot during the summer and is versatile enough to play any of the cornerback positions.
"The one thing you talk about James, and really a lot of our – especially our older guys that have played a lot of football – is they're so smart. They're so football savvy and football smart that some of those transitions for him as we were doing some of that stuff with him, became a little bit simpler for him because he understands the game and what we're trying to get done with some of these coverages and techniques," Desai said. "So, I was really impressed with how he was taking on that role and not really sacrificing his corner role, because that's his role. He's our corner. But he was learning that, and I think it helps him and really everybody in terms of the way we teach it. Helps everybody learn all 11 and why we're doing certain things from a coverage standpoint because we're all 11 as one."
Another option, and the one the Eagles went to in the win over Minnesota, is young corner Mario Goodrich, who played the first 37 of his NFL regular-season life last week. He is on the rise and Desai is aware of his progression.
More growth is needed, of course. But Goodrich and the defense are showing progress. Desai knows what is important at the position and the traits needed to thrive.
"You have to have high instincts and really good football savvy and feel. Because things in the slot happen from the left and the right, as opposed to if you're a corner, things just happen inside of you and you're playing your man on keys," Desai said. "Where here the game happens both ways. You're the primary communicator on bunch and stack tools, you are the primary communicator and adjuster on motions, so there is a level there of not necessarily stress, but an extra added layer of how you have to play in that position. And then people try to attack the slot in different ways in this league. I mean, the simplest way is the slot option route, through the stacks, the bunches, and through different releases that they give you.
"So, I think all that stuff are things we look for in kind of a slot defender of who can handle that stuff and process that stuff and be able to adjust within the scheme to be able to play those techniques."
Next stop, Tampa Bay, with an offense featuring a red-hot quarterback in Baker Mayfield, a terrific tandem of wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, an offensive line that has allowed just one quarterback sack, and committed nary a turnover. The mission is to return to Philadelphia with a victory, no matter how it is to be achieved.