They didn’t get any reps during the week, and it showed.
When the Eagles lost starting wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery early in the first quarter Sunday night in Atlanta, they were forced to use J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who had played five offensive reps in his brief NFL career, and Mack Hollins, who hadn’t caught a pass since before the Super Bowl.
Before halftime, Arcega-Whiteside was targetted four times and caught one four-yard pass and Hollins was targetted twice without a catch.
With two receivers who hadn’t gotten first-team reps during the week and with No. 2 tight end Dallas Goedert also out, the Eagles’ offense sputtered most of the half, and the Eagles managed only 95 yards and six points before halftime.
That’s always tough,” Carson Wentz said. “I’ve never seen anything quite like that, where three of your top five weapons go down early in the game like that.
Hollins in particular settled down to catch five passes for 50 yards in the second half, when the Eagles netted 191 yards and 14 points.
This week, with Jackson and Jeffery unlikely to play, Hollins and Arcega-Whiteside have become focal points of the offense, and the Eagles expect the results to be much different.
The Eagles face the Lions at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Linc, and the Eagles need a win to avoid a 1-2 start.
If that’s going to happen, the Eagles need more consistency from Nelson Agholor, their only receiver in the usual rotation who’s healthy, and from the rookie Arcega-Whiteside and the rarely used Hollins.
We’re not going to ask Mack to go be DeSean and we’re not going to ask J.J. to go be Alshon,” Wentz said. “They’re going to be themselves. I think they’re both explosive and dynamic in their own right (and) we do things that they do well. We find what they do well and cater to that and put them in the best position to succeed and they’re both great players in their own right. We have a lot of confidence in what they do well and what they bring to the team and I think having a full week to prepare with those guys will really help us.
Arcega-Whiteside, a rookie second-round pick, and Hollins, who missed all last year, both have great size and decent wheels.
But Hollins has 21 career catches since he was a fourth-round pick in 2017 and JJAW has one career catch.
They don’t have a lot of time to morph from a special teamer and a No. 4 receiver into key components of the offense.
Wentz said he can accelerate that process with communication in the meeting room, throwing against air after practice and just talking football every chance they get.
That commuication, talking through certain plays, certain looks, certain coverages, what we’re seeing,” he said. “The same thing really I always do with all the guys. Obviously, this week they’re thrust into that role some. … I feel really confident in those guys and the chemistry we have.
Doug Pederson said Jeffery, Jackson and Goedert are all day-to-day, but it would be a surprise if any of them play either Sunday or a week from today against the Packers in Green Bay.
So if the Eagles are going to find some consistency on offense it’s going to be with a 22-year-old rookie with four career receiving yards and a 26-year-old third-year player who missed all of last year and much of training camp.
They both do quite a bit well,” Wentz said. “J.J. has a really good catch radius and able to create some separation using his body and Mack kind of similar. You go back a couple years and he made some big plays down the field (a 64-yarder against the Redskins in 2017) and people forget he’s still a deep threat in that regard. I’m really confident in both those guys to make some plays this Sunday. Now it’s not just that backup role filling a void here and there, they’re going to get their chance.
They have to make the most of that chance or the Eagles could be in big trouble.
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