The Redskins have won five straight games against the Eagles, but extending that streak to six Sunday is going to prove difficult without DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.
Jackson and Garcon were two of the only constants for Washington’s offense during a winning streak that spans over parts of three seasons. Kirk Cousins was not the starting quarterback in 2014. Jordan Reed was a little-known tight end prospect at the time, and slot receiver Jamison Crowder was still in college. That first win over the Eagles was so long ago, running back Alfred Morris was still fantasy-relevant.
But Jackson and Garcon were the wide receivers through it all, accounting for nearly 50 percent of Washington’s production through the air during the streak. And now, both players are gone, departing for greener pastures as free agents – Jackson to Tampa Bay, Garcon to San Francisco.
The Eagles couldn’t be more thrilled by those developments.
“I'm not sorry to see [Garcon] gone,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “DeSean, the same way. They've replaced those guys and moved up draft picks and things like that, but I think that I'm not going to be disappointed not to see those guys on the field.”
You could always count on one or both of them giving the Eagles fits. In the last five meetings, Jackson and Garcon accounted for 40 percent of Washington’s completed passes (44), 47 percent of the receiving yards (655), and 50 percent of touchdown catches (8).
“Those two were great receivers,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “They had both over 1,000 yards (in 2016). DeSean had big-play ability, and obviously, Pierre’s deep-end ability were very good for us.”
It’s not as if the Redskins aren’t trying to replace them. The concern in Washington is whether Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson are up to the task and if those changes threaten to alter the entire look of the offense.
Washington certainly added more size on the perimeter. Jackson is listed at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds; Garcon, 6-0, 211. Pryor is 6-4, 228 pounds; Doctson, 6-2, 206.
As Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills astutely observed: “You can’t teach height.
“It’s a lot different trying to go at DeSean Jackson than the guys they have because he was just a natural sprinter, so for sure, it’s a lot different,” Mills said.
“I think they’ll definitely use [Pryor and Doctson] differently just because of the body types. Some guys do good things better than others. DeSean, he was a streaker. Garcon was a big, strong guy. You have different body types from last year to now, so I think they’re just going to use those guys the best way they can.”
What Washington’s offense gained in stature, it might be losing in big-play ability. With 57 receptions of 40 yards or more in nine NFL seasons, Jackson is one of the league’s preeminent deep threats. His speed forces opponents to defend every blade of grass on the field.
As the Eagles found out firsthand after Jackson’s release in 2014, his presence changes the game. Now, Washington is counting on Pryor to instill the same fear in defensive backs and coordinators.
“He runs a 4.3 (in the 40-yard dash),” Gruden said. “He’s 6-foot-5. I think he can stretch the field. It’s just a matter of him getting into the system and becoming comfortable with Kirk.”
The Redskins signed Pryor to a free-agent contract in March.
“They’re different-type receivers, these big receivers with the long strides,” Gruden said. “They run a lot faster than it looks, so it just takes a little bit of time for us to get used to each other. We’re going through that right now, but he definitely can stretch the field.”
For what it’s worth, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins still thinks Washington is going to try to push the ball downfield and agrees Pryor has that ability (see five matchups to watch).
“Their offense has always been built on that, even when it was D-Jack and Garcon,” Jenkins said. “Terrelle Pryor is still someone who can stretch the field. He’s a long strider who can cover a lot of ground, so he’s probably going to be the guy to take the top off and allow Crowder to work underneath. I don’t see that part of their game changing.”
Even conceding Pryor and Doctson are big and can run fast, there is a massive drop-off in experience from Jackson and Garson as well.
Jackson is a three-time Pro Bowl selection, and Garcon averaged 70 receptions and 880 yards over the last eight seasons. A converted quarterback, Pryor eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving for the first time last season with the Browns, where he was the offense’s only viable weapon, and Doctson – a first-round draft pick in 2016 – has two career receptions.
At the very least, Pryor and Doctson are an unknown, and Washington’s offense will be entering uncharted territory when it takes the field in Week 1. The lack of continuity alone could cause problems getting out of the gate – never mind Jackson’s and Garcon’s outsized roles in beating the Eagles in the past.