At 5-10, 178, DeSean Jackson is not a very big guy. But he’s too big to just disappear for large chunks of games and that is what has happened the last two weeks.
The speedy wide receiver has been back for three games after missing all but a few plays of the first seven games with a hamstring strain. In his first game back against the Patriots he was still getting his legs under him and he had almost no impact, with three receptions for 15 yards.
But a trend has developed for Jackson in the last two games. In the Redskins’ first possession against the Saints he took off down the left side and Kirk Cousins dropped in a nice pass that was good for 43 yards. The Redskins went on to score a touchdown on the way to posting 47 points against New Orleans. But Jackson’s contribution the rest of the way was minimal as he caught one more pass for one yard.
Last Sunday against the Panthers, Jackson made another big play early. He got into the end zone for the first time this year, hauling in a 56-yard touchdown pass from Cousins midway through the first quarter. But it didn’t turn out to be a big day for him; the rest of the way he had a very pedestrian four receptions for 31 yards.
Cousins said that the Redskins didn’t have many opportunities to get the ball to Jackson for the final three and a half quarters because they didn’t run many plays.
“I think turnovers definitely shorten your ability to get anybody the football when you don’t run many plays,” said Cousins. “I think we had 21 plays in the first half. It’s hard to feed anybody — whether it’s DeSean or Matt Jones or Pierre [Garçon], anybody, if you don’t have that many plays.”
Cousins was right about the 21 first-half plays and thanks to the five turnovers and a trio of three-and-out series they ran just 47 offensive plays the whole game. For comparison, the average NFL team this year has run 64 plays per game.
Jay Gruden said that the Panthers’ coverage scheme was set up to take away big plays. “Carolina was playing a lot of the read Cover 2 last week where it’s hard to get him the ball down the sideline or to the post,” he said. “So it might be some underneath-type throws and we have other guys that are in those spots.”
Cousins pointed out that they did get the ball to Jackson on some bubble screens but they weren’t able to break any of them for solid gains.
But, regardless, they have to figure it out. “We have to make sure we try to keep him in the game for four quarters and try to get him some more looks,” said Gruden.
Gruden is right, of course. Jackson has a $9.2 million salary cap number this year. He is the one offensive weapon the Redskins possess that most other teams don’t have. The chances of them making a run to the playoffs in these last six games are not good if they can’t get contributions out of Jackson from the beginning of the game to the end.