Good morning, Eagles fans. Just when we all thought we’d be able to kick our feet up, watch the Cowboys-Giants game on Monday night and enjoy a bye week, the Eagles’ wide receiver situation got a lot more bleak. DeSean Jackson is out for a while, likely the rest of the season. My fine colleagues have written many words about how the Eagles and Jackson have handled the injury, so be sure to read them. Below, we’ll look ahead. The Eagles will have to continue leaning on Mack Hollins, and potentially get J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the mix more. What’s been keeping Hollins from being productive this season? And what’s been keeping Arcega-Whiteside off the field? More on that later.
— EJ Smith (email@example.com)
For a very short time, the Eagles offense enjoyed something they haven’t consistently had since the sun stayed out past 7 p.m.
DeSean Jackson, even at whatever speed he was on Sunday, forced the Chicago Bears to account for him. They gave the Eagles several two-high safety looks, shading a defensive back deep in case Jackson tried to run a “go" route over the top.
By the second half, with Jackson standing on the sideline without his helmet and the Eagles offense struggling, the Bears had settled into a one-high safety look. Loading up the box to stop the run, the Bears were confident their defensive backs could keep Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery, and Mack Hollins in front of them, even without two safeties shading over the top.
With Jackson out for the foreseeable future, the Eagles are without a designated deep threat. Miles Sanders has been the team’s go-to receiver for throws more than 20 yards down the field. In an ideal world, Jackson’s prolonged absence would open up a spot for Eagles’ second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, similar to the way Jason Peters’ knee injury gave the team a chance to see rookie Andre Dillard in live action.
But Arcega-Whiteside hasn’t been able to get on the field. When asked about Arcega-Whiteside’s lack of playing time, the coaching staff said the receiver out of Stanford needed to learn the plays from all three receiver spots before getting out there.
But, on Monday, coach Doug Pederson said they have confidence in Arcega-Whiteside’s ability to play all three positions, and a bigger role coming out of the bye week could be coming up.
“He’s kind of learning from Alshon,” Pederson said. “He’s doing everything right, he’s practicing hard. And sometimes it’s just hard to get on the field because of that and one of the things we like about J.J. is his versatility, the fact that he can play really all three spots and move him around. So, being able to do that, obviously allows us to find a position or at least find some snaps for guys like that, and I think, moving forward, that’s something … to see how we can maximize our potential that way.”
If Arcega-Whiteside doesn’t get more snaps, then Hollins will likely stay in his role as the team’s third receiver. Hollins, primarily a special-teams player before this year, has been on the field a good amount, but doesn’t have the production to show for it. He’s been targeted 21 times and has just 10 catches for 125 yards. What’s worse, Hollins has gone five straight games without a catch, and wasn’t even targeted in the last two games.
Pederson said there’s a reason the ball isn’t finding Hollins.
“When you’re the sixth, possibly seventh guy in the progression or in the scheme of things, sometimes it’s hard to get the ball going in that direction,” Pederson said. “The ball is going to find, usually, the open guy, and find the completion that way.”
Are we entering a McNabb-like period where we have a franchise QB in his prime years and the team never gets him the receivers he needs to be successful? — @msd123 via Twitter.
Very interesting question, M. I’ll start off by saying we are at the very beginning of what should be Wentz’s prime years. Let’s say his prime started in 2017, and we’re in it now. I took a look at the draft history on the Eagles during Donovan McNabb’s prime years (2000-09), and there are similarities to Wentz’s era so far. The Eagles made a clear effort to get McNabb perimeter threats early in his career, drafting Todd Pinkston in the second round of the 2001 NFL draft and Freddie Mitchell in the first round the next year.
They went two straight drafts without making a significant investment in a receiver, but then took Reggie Brown in the second round of the 2005 draft. But, save for some fun memories from FredEx, none of those guys were true difference makers. They got Jason Avant the next year and then finally hit a home run with DeSean Jackson in the second round of the 2008 draft, but McNabb had been missing a true No. 1 through the draft before then. Outside of Terrell Owens and Jackson, the Eagles left something to be desired at receiver.
Now, back to Wentz. The Eagles’ record of drafting receivers isn’t great, and if it continues, Wentz may be commiserating with McNabb in a decade. But I’d argue the Eagles current front office has shown a capability to find value in other ways, even if the team isn’t able to find a true difference-maker through the next few drafts.
It’s important to remember, too, the Eagles have valued offensive and defensive line over skill positions as an organizational philosophy, and it’s been successful for them. It’s better to have Wentz’s jersey clean and guys dropping passes than Wentz running for his life with dynamic threats running free downfield. Look at Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield.