Eagles explain their 'operations problems' in sluggish win over Patriots. Are you buying it?

Defending NFC champs making adjustments with 2 new coordinators

If there is one downside to enjoying a high level of success in the NFL, it's that other teams come sniffing around, wanting a piece of what you have. Top players are signed away for well-earned paydays, assistant coaches become coordinators elsewhere, coordinators get head coaching gigs.

(Well, unless you're a Chiefs team that has been to three out of the past four Super Bowls with offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, but that's a different column for a different day.)

The Philadelphia Eagles and head coach Nick Sirianni learned that earlier this year, when both coordinators were hired as head coaches after their Super Bowl loss: offensive coordinator Shane Steichen in Indianapolis and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon with the Cardinals.

That means the reigning NFC champions are in full-blown learning and adjustment mode as new men moved into those spots. Brian Johnson was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, and Sean Desai, who was the Bears' defensive coordinator and spent last season in Seattle, was hired in late February to guide the Eagles' defense.

Philadelphia won its season opener 25-20 on the road in New England, but there were signs of growing pains on both sides.

After the game, Sirianni gave Johnson a positive review when asked directly about Johnson's debut as play-caller, and gave the defense the same but did not mention Desai by name.

"I thought [Johnson] was awesome. I thought he adjusted," Sirianni said. "We're always talking; communication was great. I didn't feel the operations problems on the offensive side. We had some operations problems elsewhere. But I thought Brian — Brian's cool and calm and just got a great demeanor about himself."

The Eagles led the NFC in total offense last season at 389 yards per game, but weren't nearly so prolific at Gillette Stadium, gaining just 251 yards on Sunday.

Some of that may have been the steady rain that fell for much of the first half, and some was certainly due to the Patriots' defense, which quarterback Jalen Hurts and New England players acknowledged had a lot of disguises to trip up Hurts, who threw for 170 yards on 22-of-33 passing.

FOXBOROUGH, MA - SEPTEMBER 10: Jalen Hurts #1 of the Philadelphia Eagles carries the ball during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 10, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)
Jalen Hurts and the Eagles' offense provided just enough to outlast the Patriots in soggy Foxborough on Sunday. (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)

"They are a really good defense. That's what the NFL is, the NFL is a huge league of disguises," Hurts said. "But for us I don't think it's necessarily about anyone else. It's about us and how we control the things that we can. We've got to be able to execute at a better level and a higher level, and we have to be more efficient."

Some of the struggles were a result of questionable run calls on longer third downs (Philadelphia was 4-for-13 on third downs) and seemingly forgetting that tight end Dallas Goedert is on the roster. Goedert, who had 55 catches for 702 yards in 12 games last season, was targeted just once Sunday, on third-and-7 early in the fourth quarter.

"We can't go a game without getting him the football. He's too good of a playmaker," Sirianni said. "But there are some things that the Patriots did that made it difficult for us to be able to get him some quick, easy touches. They made it hard for us to get the ball to our playmakers, and that's what a defense like that usually does."

Defensively, the line played well but the secondary, not so much. The book on New England's receivers for a couple of years is that they struggle to get separation, yet Philadelphia's corners played off them for most of the game and also seemed to have communications issues. There was more than one play in which a receiver made a wide-open catch, including Kendrick Bourne on his 11-yard fourth-quarter score and a 17-yard catch-and-run on second down by Mike Gesicki on the Patriots' final possession, when New England was on the Eagles' side of the field and had 70 seconds and a timeout to get the potential go-ahead TD.

Those are likely the "operations problems elsewhere" Sirianni mentioned. They need to be cleaned up, and fast: the Eagles host the Vikings (0-1) and superstar receiver Justin Jefferson on Thursday night.

But the first two touchdowns the Eagles got came thanks to the defense, with Darius Slay corralling a batted ball on the Patriots' first possession, returning it for a 70-yard pick 6. On New England's next offensive snap, at their own 25, defensive tackle Jordan Davis forced an Ezekiel Elliott fumble that Zach Cunningham pounced on.

The offense made short work of the short field and Philadelphia was up 16-0 before the first quarter was out.

"We got the win, that's all that matters, but we've got to go out there and put out a better tape," Slay said. "We need to go out there and fix our mistakes. As a leader on this defense I know we need to go out and execute better, cause we're better than that."

Later in the game, the Eagles sacked Mac Jones in two critical situations, on the Patriots' penultimate possession and again on their last.

"There was a couple of times there I'm like, 'we've got to get to this quarterback at some point' and two of the biggest moments in the game, we did," Sirianni said.

Philadelphia will keep addressing its growing pains, but left Gillette Stadium with a win on Sunday night despite those issues. The Eagles will take it and we'll see what fixes, if any, will be made in a short game week.