Will new Eagles defensive coordinator Sean Desai's scheme be more of the same?

Will Desai's defensive scheme be more of the same? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

There were nine candidates, and Sean Desai separated himself from the pack very quickly.

“Just his overall knowledge of football,” Nick Sirianni said when asked what he liked about DeSai. “His football IQ is extremely high. Great detail. Just a really sharp coach.”

Desai, the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator, was one of nine candidates Sirianni interviewed to replace Jonathan Gannon, and while he didn’t start out as the favorite, he quickly won Sirianni and Howie Roseman over.

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Why? It's easy to connect the dots.

Desai is a disciple of Vic Fangio, the influential long-time defensive coach who got his first pro job in Philadelphia under Jim Mora with the USFL Stars in 1984. Before becoming Broncos head coach in 2019, Fangio was Bears defensive coordinator from 2015 through 2018, and Desai was a young quality control assistant with the Bears during that period learning the NFL game from Fangio.

Sirianni and Roseman are obviously big believers in Fangio’s scheme – they brought him in before the Super Bowl to serve as a consultant – and in Desai they have someone who is a clear Fangio disciple. That means a 3-4 base, lots of zone coverage, two-high safety shell, coverages geared to prevent big plays, producing sacks without blitzing.

Sound familiar?

Sirianni is an offensive coach, but he has a clear idea how he wants defense to be played, and Desai fits it just like Gannon did.

Sirianni wouldn’t talk about Desai’s defensive philosophy citing the ever-present competitive advantage.

“One thing that we definitely have now is what we had our first year going into it – we have a little bit of unknown,” Sirianni said. “Now, whoever we play our first game can go and watch some of Sean's stuff from Chicago or even some of the things from Seattle.

"But one thing that we have is some uncertainty again going into that first game, where you hide some things in pre-season football.”

But he did allow that the Eagles’ defense won’t be a huge change from what Gannon ran.

“Not to give everything away, but what I did like is some of the similarities to the things that we do, that we've already been doing here on a very successful defense with different coverages, different run blitzes, things like that,” he said.

In Desai’s one year as defensive coordinator under Matt Nagy in Chicago, the Bears blitzed 123 times – 29th-most in the league (but 11 times more than than the Eagles, who ranked 31st).

Last year in Seattle, when his title was assistant head coach, the Seahawks blitzed just 95 times – second-fewest in the league (and 51 times fewer than the Eagles, who ranked 17th).

In Fangio’s three years as Broncos head coach, Denver blitzed 400 times – fourth-fewest in the NFL.

In Fangio's introductory press conference two weeks ago as Miami's new defensive coordinator, he wasted no time making it clear nothing will change when it comes to blitzing.

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“If you have to, that’s not a great feeling," he said. "You want to do it when you want to, on your terms.”

All of this could help explain why the Eagles hired Desai and not a candidate with maybe better credentials but a more aggressive approach to playing defense. This is the scheme Sirianni wants.

“All I'm looking for is the best guys for the job,” Sirianni said. “Again, you have to balance different things. Every coach can't be the same. I think there is a tendency to say, ‘I'm going to get this coach and he's like me a little bit.’

“You don't want a bunch of the same guys running around, but every coach needs to be very detailed in what they do. So that's always the common denominator that I am looking for, but we're not afraid to cast a wide net.

“Whether we know them, whether we don't know them, whether we know them through somebody, we're going to cast a wide net to try to do what's best for the Philadelphia Eagles.”