July 14, 2023   4 MIN READ

Play Callers, Play Makers

2023 Season Preview Series: Birds Questions Headed Into 2023

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(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 10th story in a series by Inside The Birds’ Geoff Mosher and Andrew DiCecco previewing the 2023 Philadelphia Eagles season. In Part 10, they identify the biggest team concern for the Eagles in 2023).

Brian Johnson

GETTY IMAGES: After two years, former Eagles QBs coach Brian Johnson was promoted to OC and play caller this offseason.

Andrew DiCecco: New Coordinators

I suppose there is a scenario in which the offense and defense march on without a hitch, even with new coordinators at the helm.

But the cohesion and continuity Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon both provided to a team equipped for a deep postseason run shouldn’t be understated.

In regard to Steichen, the team’s second-year offensive coordinator who grew with quarterback Jalen Hurts in his second year as a starter seemingly pressed all the right buttons in 2022, shaping an MVP candidate and presiding over a historically efficient unit.

And say what you will about Gannon, whose defense came up small at the most inopportune times, but the increased familiarity and feel for his personnel was apparent in his second year at the controls.

Perhaps newly appointed offensive coordinator Brian Johnson – a rapidly ascending offensive mind who thrived in a crucial role last season as Hurts’ quarterback coach – hits the ground running and picks up where the offense left off, rolling up 417 scrimmage yards and 35 points against the Kansas City Chiefs in Arizona.

While Johnson, whose longstanding relationship with Hurts goes back to the quarterback’s adolescence, could take Hurts to new heights in ’23, he will be calling plays for the first time at the professional level.

And while I have high expectations for Johnson, I would be remiss to overlook a storyline where the burden to replicate the success of a unit largely intact could potentially manifest.

As for Desai, the former Temple product inherits perhaps the most scrutinized job in Philadelphia sports. The 40-year-old Desai, a defensive coordinator once before in 2021 with the Bears, has a hefty pass rush at his disposal, but must overcome perceived shortcomings at linebacker as well as maximize the potential of a talented, albeit aging, secondary ahead of some potentially exploiting matchups on the slate.

GETTY IMAGES: Eagles CB Darius Slay, who once led the NFL in interceptions, had three last year and in 2021.

Geoff Mosher: Turnover Production

When the Eagles were at their best last season, it wasn’t because they were the most prolific offensive team or even because they were en route to a record-setting season sacking quarterbacks.

For a good chunk of the first half, when the Eagles opened the season with eight straight wins, they were the NFL’s best takeaway team. They secured 18 takeaways through the first eight games, tops in the league.

Turnovers are typically the byproduct of an intense pass rush coupled with a backend playmaker, and the Eagles have lost more than gained in those two areas this offseason.

Gone are double-digit sack defensive tackle Javon Hargrave along with safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, whose six interceptions during a five-game stretch helped the Eagles ascend to No. 1 on the takeaway leaderboard going into the halfway mark.

Gardner-Johnson, who signed with the Lions in free agency, accounted for one-third of the team’s entire interception total.

Terrell Edmunds, expected to start at one safety spot, has fewer total interceptions in five-year career (5) than Gardner-Johnson had during that five-week stretch. The former Steeler didn’t record a single pick in 15 games last season.

Turnovers are often the difference between winning and losing, which the Eagles learned as they went 14-3 last year while finishing with the league’s fourth-most takeaways, but then lost the Super Bowl when they couldn’t force a single turnover and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in a three-point loss to the Chiefs.

New defensive coordinator Sean Desai should have enough pass rush to disrupt quarterbacks, but does he have a playmaker on the back end who can help flip the field?

– Geoff Mosher (@geoffpmosher) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and Senior staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com. Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

Follow the whole series:
Part 1: Most impactful rookie
Part 2: Biggest second-year player impact
Part 3: Breakout 2023 performer
Part 4: Most significant free-agent addition, offense
Part 5: Most significant free-agent addition, defense
Part 6: Strong position, offense
Part 7: Strongest position, defense
Part 8: Most poised for decline
Part 9: Biggest individual concern
Part 10: Biggest team concern

Listen to the latest “Inside The Birds” podcast featuring Adam Caplan and Geoff Mosher:

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