When the Eagles brought back DeSean Jackson this offseason, we all talked about how he was going to be the downfield speed threat the Eagles had so desperately been lacking in recent years. We all thought he was going to add a key element to the Eagles’ offense.
And he did. For one game.
In the opener, Jackson went off, catching two deep ball touchdowns and showing off the kind of speed defenses have to respect. Then he got hurt.
Since early in Week 2, the Eagles have really missed him.
“Yeah, you miss his explosiveness, obviously, the threat to stretch a defense,” Doug Pederson said earlier this week. “His ability to get open.
“Yeah, you miss that, yet at the same time, though, we can't make excuses for it. We have to help him get healthy and get back on the field and then play with the guys we have.”
Jackson, 32, is still rehabbing from that abdominal injury. And while he’s apparently getting better, the Eagles are about to enter the toughest stretch of the season and Jackson’s health is a question mark. For now, it seems unlikely he’ll be back in time for this Sunday’s game in Minnesota.
Carson Wentz has completed six passes of 30-plus yards this season. The first two went to Jackson in Week 1. Nelson Agholor caught one in Week 2. Since then, the last three passes of 30-plus yards have gone to rookie running back Miles Sanders.
And the Eagles have completed just one 20-yard pass to their receivers in the last two games. They won both games, but they did it in spite of downfield passing.
Look at the difference between Wentz’s attempts the last two weeks compared to Week 1 with Jackson in the lineup.
On Sunday against the lowly Jets, Wentz attempted just two passes that traveled farther than 20 yards in the air. Both went to Agholor. On one, the defense was charged with an illegal contact. And on the other, Agholor was clearly contacted illegally by the defense but it wasn’t called. The Eagles challenged for defensive pass interference, but lost the challenge.
That was offensive coordinator Mike Groh’s answer when asked about how the Eagles can get their deep game working without Jackson.
“I think we got behind the defense twice the other day,” Groh said. “We had illegal contact on both plays, which really kind of negated those opportunities. We will continue to try to look for those, and when we get them, hopefully we hit them. We felt really good about those two plays. Unfortunately, we know how it played out.”
Sure, maybe if the Eagles connected on both of those plays, we’re not talking about this. But they didn’t. And they didn’t try any more.
The real problem without Jackson is the guys who are filling in for him aren’t getting it done. Agholor is starting to look like he did early in his career. He’s dropped several balls, including what should have been a game-winner in Atlanta. And Mack Hollins hasn’t done nearly enough either.
Meanwhile, rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside can’t get on the field. That’s because he’s Alshon Jeffery’s backup, but there were receivers drafted after him who had the element of speed who would help right now. That’s not to make any declarative statements about his career — that would be crazy; it’s too early — but that draft pick isn’t helping right now.
In the last two wins, the Eagles have gotten by without Jackson because of their ability to run the ball and their use of 12 personnel (two tight ends). But they’re just missing something without Jackson in the lineup.
And it doesn’t look like they’ll have it back until he returns.
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