Cardinals’ Jonathan Gannon treating Philadelphia return as ‘next game’

Dec 27, 2023, 3:57 PM

Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon and DC Nick Rallis look on...

Head coach Jonathan Gannon (L) and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis of the Arizona Cardinals look on against the Minnesota Vikings in the first half of a preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium on August 26, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Cardinals defeated the Vikings 18-17. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

TEMPE — The week has finally come for Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis.

Less than a year after he left the City of Brotherly Love for the Grand Canyon State, the two will face off against their former Philadelphia Eagles team on Sunday.

There are layers of the buildup surrounding the former Eagles DC’s and linebackers coach’s returns to Philly following their two-year stint with the Eagles that included a trip to the Super Bowl last season.

Neither are playing into it. That or their poker-face game is solid.

“The next game on the schedule,” Gannon said Tuesday. “A really good football team. It’ll be good to see (Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni) and the coaches over there and (Eagles general manager Howie Roseman), but just like any other week, when the whistle blows, it’s compete, compete, compete.

“I know they’re 11-4 battling for the one seed,” the head coach added. “A really good football team on all three phases. A lot of premium players, a lot of good players over there (who are) well coached and they play hard. It’s going to be a big-time challenge.”

Rallis was in lockstep with his head coach’s next-game-on-the-schedule thinking on returning to Philadelphia.

That’s not to say the DC’s heart won’t be pumping a little harder than normal when he walks out onto Lincoln Financial Field.

“I’ve played there as a visitor, I’ve played there as part of the home team and no matter what, those kinds of environments will get your juices flowing,” Rallis said Tuesday. “That part of it is fun and I had a phenomenal couple years in Philly. I learned a lot of football. I think it’s going to be fun going up against really good coaches, a great organization, some phenomenal players — players and coaches that really helped me get to where I am in my career.

“Once kickoff happens, to me, it’s focus on, ‘What do we have to win the game? Or how do I have to call it? Or how do I have to make adjustments?’ And so on and so forth. But I think there is ultimately a good appreciation for this opportunity on Sunday.”

Jonathan Gannon’s departure from Philadelphia

With the help of Gannon’s defensive prowess, the Eagles nearly reached the pinnacle of the sport, only to fall 38-35 to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII.

And while it’s one heck of an achievement to reach the Super Bowl, there was still a bad taste in a lot of Philadelphia faithful’s mouths for more reasons than just the loss.

Among the biggest was the amount of points the Gannon-led defense gave up on top of a sack-less showing despite being a juggernaut unit throughout the season.

But chief (no pun intended) of them all was how Gannon’s departure for the Cardinals’ job was perceived.

Just two days after the big game, Gannon took the job in Arizona after meeting with owner Michael Bidwill and first-year general manager Monti Ossenfort. Given the abruptness of the decision, it led many in Philadelphia’s corner to wonder if the potential of being a head coach clouded Gannon’s thinking heading into the big game.

A tampering charge coming down from the league moments before the start of the 2023 NFL Draft only added fuel to the fire.

In a joint statement with the Eagles, the Cardinals acknowledged that Ossenfort had an impermissible phone conversation with Gannon days after the NFC Championship Game. Per the NFL’s anti-tampering policy, that is a big no-no.

To resolve the matter, Philadelphia swapped its 94th pick in the draft for Arizona’s 66th while also sending the Cardinals its fifth-rounder in 2024.

An ESPN article on Gannon’s departure pulled back the curtain even more on the whole situation, explaining with the help of sources that it was perceived Gannon was going to remain Philadelphia’s DC right around the time Ossenfort rang the now-head coach to congratulate and offer him an interview for Arizona’s opening.

The article added that the Cardinals did not reach out to the Eagles for an interview request of Gannon until two days before the Super Bowl, and that Gannon’s sudden change of heart made Philadelphia miss out on hiring or at the very least planning for then-advisor and now-Miami Dolphins DC Vic Fangio to step into the role.

The aftermath of JG’s departure

The Eagles at 11-4 have remained a top team in the NFL despite Gannon’s departure.

That’s not to say there aren’t some glaring issues defensively.

After boasting one of the top defenses in the NFL, highlighted by allowing the fewest passing yards per game in the league with 179.8 just a season ago, the Eagles have watched that number balloon to 250.8 in 2023. Only five teams sport a worse mark through 16 weeks.

Philadelphia is also watching opponents score more this season behind a 4.2 increase from 20.2 to 24.4 points per game.

The downturn in performance eventually led to the demotion of DC Sean Desai, who turned defensive play-calling over to senior defensive assistant Matt Patricia after back-to-back blowout losses in Weeks 13 and 14.

Since the switch up, the Eagles are 1-1, but did just watch a sputtering New York Giants squad put up 25 points in an eventual loss to Philadelphia.

The confidence defensively is shaky at best in Philly right now.

The Jonathan Gannon-Nick Sirianni relationship

Despite how things ended in Philadelphia, there is still a ton of respect between Gannon and Sirianni.

As Gannon mentioned, it’ll be good to see one of his mentors and friends.

“He’s helped me a good deal moving throughout this year with some different things,” Gannon said. “He’s always a resource for me.

“Obviously, we’re extremely tight, but yeah, it’ll be the Eagles versus the Cardinals. Compete, compete, compete.”

The good feeling is mutual for Sirianni, who worked with Gannon in both Philadelphia (2021-22) and Indianapolis (2018-20).

“I have a great deal of respect for Jonathan and the coach that he is and the person that he is,” Sirianni told reporters on Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to going against him this weekend and the players that I’ve talked to feel the same way.

“We didn’t finish the job last year, which all of us still have that taste in our mouth … but there were still special moments, a lot of special moments last year and also in 2021. Jonathan Gannon was a big part of that.”

But regardless of the pleasantries and respect the two have for one another, it’s business as usual when the helmets come on.

“I want him to feel so uncomfortable — which I’m already sensing that’s going to happen — when he walks in that stadium that he never wants to come to Philly again,” Sirianni told 94WIP on Wednesday. “Even if he left stuff in his house that he’s got to go back to pick up, I want this guy to feel so uncomfortable.”

Warm reception in Philadelphia?

If Santa Claus can’t make it in Philadelphia, what makes you think a couple of former coaches — that includes one who has gotten a lot of flak from Philly fans — will?

“(I’m) not really concerned about it,” Gannon said when asked on his thoughts on how Philadelphia fans might receive him on Sunday.

To winner, goes the spoils?

The Cardinals aren’t anywhere close to the playoff picture in Year 1 under Gannon.

They can, however, potentially ruin the Eagles’ playoff seeding in Week 17 and the Seattle Seahawks’ chances of making securing a Wild Card spot in the season finale with back-to-back wins.

But while some are fixated on the what-if repercussions, Gannon is focused on going 1-0 this week.

“That’s something not in my brain of playing spoiler,” Gannon said. “I want to try to do a good enough job this week to give ourselves a chance to win.”

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