DeSean Jackson sidelined (again) and Eagles receivers fail to deliver in his place (again) | Jeff McLane
When Jackson isn’t on the field, the Eagles don’t have receivers capable of catching deep balls.
One catch, one drive and DeSean Jackson’s return from an abdomen injury after a six-game absence was short-lived. Doug Pederson said the Eagles’ reasons were “precautionary right now” when he was asked if the wide receiver, in leaving the game, had tweaked his abdomen injury. But holding him out before a bye week might have been the more preventive measure.
Nevertheless, Pederson had said the plan for Jackson was to play him the entire game. Unless it wasn’t. Could the Eagles have simply given the “optimistic” indication all week that he would play as to affect the Chicago Bears’ preparation? Perhaps.
One thing remains certain: When Jackson isn’t on the field, the Eagles don’t have receivers capable of catching deep balls. In fact, they really don’t have receivers who can consistently make even the simplest of catches.
The Eagles managed to topple the Bears, 22-14, Sunday in spite of the lack of production from the position. And they again won with a ball-control offense. But Jackson’s abbreviated appearance and the continuing uncertainty about his health only further highlighted deficiencies at receiver when he isn’t around.
For the sixth straight game, an Eagles receiver failed to catch a pass for more than 40 yards. The longest grab by a receiver was for only 13 yards.
“It’s going to come,” said receiver Alshon Jeffery. “Just bear with us, Philly fans.”
Jeffery deserves a grace period. But time is running out. He dropped three of eight targets, and even though he rebounded with a key third-down catch on the Eagles’ game-clinching drive, the 29-year-old is seemingly regressing right before our eyes.
“We human at the end of the day, just like anybody else,” Jeffery said. “We’re going to drop balls. You’re not going to make every throw. You’re not going to make every tackle. … We got to flush it and keep moving.”
The Eagles overcame the drops, the last on a fourth-quarter third down that the Bears, trailing 19-14 at the time, failed to turn into points. But that wasn’t the case in the Falcons and Lions games when late-game flubs by several receivers contributed to losses.
But Pederson has found a formula without Jackson and it has mostly involved heavy usage of running backs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders on the ground. The Eagles coach has also leaned on the run to keep his mediocre defense off the field. But if there was a day when he didn’t have to worry about Jim Schwartz’s unit, it was this one.
Quarterback Carson Wentz took two shots downfield to receiver Nelson Agholor, but neither was close to being completed. Jackson’s two targets were on short passes – the first of which drew a pass-interference penalty and the second was for 5 yards.
But tight end Zach Ertz made the key grab on the opening series: a 15-yard catch when he was wide-open on fourth-and-2 from the Chicago 40-yard line. It was a mesh concept with Agholor rubbing safety Eddie Jackson out of coverage, but Wentz, nevertheless, was asked if Jackson’s presence had any effect.
“It’s hard to say,” Wentz said. “He was only out there a little bit, but it was a spark when he was, regardless of what he was doing.”
Jackson would soon be out, however. He stood on the sideline with his helmet in his hand for the Eagles’ next drive. But he eventually went into the locker room. When Jackson returned, he hopped on the stationary bike and did about .01 miles of pedaling, but that would be the extent of his physical exertion for the rest of the game.
“The plan was to play him obviously,” Pederson said, “so we’ll have some more testing done in the morning.”
Jackson wasn’t available to interview after the game, but he didn’t offer much information Friday when he spoke for the first time since the injury occurred in Atlanta on Sept. 15. He declined to answer questions about how it occurred and if surgery was an option.
But it’s fair to question if the Eagles will ever have Jackson as he looked in Week 1, when he caught two long touchdowns, when and if he returns. It didn’t appear as if he was going to have a large role Sunday.
“We had a game plan for certain things,” Agholor said. “He was going to get whatever snap count he was going to get, but he wasn’t going to do too much anyway.”
Pederson again leaned heavily on his two-tight end package, which makes sense since Ertz and Dallas Goedert are his most dependable ball catchers. Ertz caught 9-of-11 targets for 103 yards and a touchdown, and Goedert pulled in 4-of-5 passes for 39 yards, including a key third-down screen on the late drive.
The receivers didn’t have anywhere near the impact. Jeffery caught only 4-of-8 targets for 36 yards. Agholor caught only 3-of-8 for 21 yards. Wentz tried to hit him on a deep post before the half, but he was double covered, and later on a sideline route, but Agholor couldn’t get separation vs. cornerback Prince Amukamara.
He has caught only 3-of-17 targets on passes of more than 20 yards this season.
“I keep on trying them,” Agholor said of the deep shots. “Maybe you make some contested ones, but soon we’re going to get the one that’s naked, wide-open, great call at the right time. We’re going to keep on grinding it.”
Meanwhile, Mack Hollins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who played more than he has in recent weeks, didn’t have a single pass thrown their way. They’re the last options, but when the receivers ahead of them are underperforming, it only magnifies the problems lower on the depth chart.
Of 97 NFL receivers with more than 17 targets entering Week 9, Jeffery was 44th in yards per route run (1.63), Agholor 86th (0.95) and Hollins 96th (0.68).
Jeffery, in particular, was expected to pick up the slack after Jackson left, but aside from the Eagles’ playoff run, he hasn’t answered the bell consistently since he was acquired in 2017.
“I just told him we’re coming right back to him,” Wentz said he told Jeffery after his third drop. “It’s part of football. It’s part of the game. We’re going to all make mistakes and I have nothing but confidence in him.”
For all the drama surrounding Jeffery and whether he was the anonymous source behind the disparaging quotes about Wentz and the offense, the quarterback continues to force the ball to the receiver, even after drops. Jeffery finally delivered with a 13-yard snag at the start of the late drive.
“I told him I was going to make a play no matter what,” Jeffery said. “I still know. I have confidence in myself.”