Is DeSean having a down year?
It seems that every time he goes a couple weeks without exploding for a big play, the question is asked:
What's up with DeSean Jackson?
Jackson had just six total catches for 77 yards in the Eagles' back-to-back wins over the Redskins and Cowboys. But as we wait and see whether he and the team will come to terms on a long-term contract, it's worth examining the kind of year Jackson's having through seven games.
The eyeball test tells us Jackson has been inconsistent, that he's not making the same explosive plays we've seen in previous seasons.
The numbers tell us Jackson is pretty much the same receiver he was during his first three seasons here.
Jackson had played 45 regular season games before 2011, and he has played seven so far this year. I took a look at his per-game averages during the two periods, and they are almost identical:
The numbers don't lie. Jackson's 2011 season is on par with the 45 games he played before this season.
If you break it down season-by-season, there are some differences to note:
The yards are down from the previous two seasons, but there's really not much of a difference. For example, if Jackson were to have a 100-yard game Monday night, his 2011 average would jump to 73.4.
Last year's 22.5 yards per catch average was going to be hard to duplicate. Among the 100 players with at least 20 catches this season, none has a number that high. Carolina's Steve Smith leads the group with a 20.0 average.
If you look at advanced metrics, Jackson stacks up favorably as well. He has a 54 percent catch rate (receptions per targets), compared to 49 percent last year, according to Football Outsiders. And his DVOA, which is their metric that takes into account opponents, game situations, etc., is 14.4 percent, compared to 2.3 percent last year. Jackson's hands are still not the greatest. STATS.com has him down for four drops; Pro Football Focus has him down for five.
In terms of targets, Jackson is getting pretty much the same number of looks as last season. In 2010, he averaged 6.9 targets per game; in 2011, the number is 7.1.
The one area where there's a difference is where Jackson is catching the ball. In 2010, 25.5 percent of his catches were made more than 20 yards downfield. This year, that number is 14.8 percent.
But Jackson's still producing big plays. He has seven catches of 25+ yards. There are only three wide receivers in the league who have more: Smith, Mike Wallace and Calvin Johnson.
There are four receivers in the league who have 20+ catches and are averaging at least 18.0 yards per catch: Smith, Jordy Nelson, Wallace and Jackson.
In other words, Jackson is still part of a select group of big-play receivers. He's clearly not having as good a year as Wallace or Smith, and has only scored twice, but Jackson's numbers will be there at the end of the season. If he stays healthy, he's projected for 62 catches and 1,113 yards.
It is worth noting that from 2008-2010, he had seven non-receiving touchdowns that came on runs or returns. Jackson hasn't been much of a factor in either those areas (3 rushes, -1 yards; longest return has been 20 yards), but again, we're only through seven games.
There is an aspect of Jackson's game that doesn't show up in the numbers. You've probably seen it by now, but Michael Vick explained Sunday night why the Eagles didn't hit on big plays downfield against the Cowboys.
"Did you see how deep the safeties were playing? It was 500 yards back. Can't throw a bomb against that," Vick said. "So you have to pick and choose your spots. Intermediate routes, try to get them to come up and try to put pressure on them to get what you want. Sometimes it's tough. Each week you're not going to see the bomb. It all depends on what you get."
Think the safeties playing deep has something to do with Jackson? I do. It'd be a disservice to Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy to say they are having great seasons because of Jackson. They are great players in their own right. But the point is, Jackson affects the game even when when the ball's not in his hands.
Given the success of the Eagles' other weapons - Maclin, McCoy and Jason Avant are all on pace for career seasons - it'll be interesting to see if defenses change how they scheme against the Eagles. If they focus more on stopping the run or limiting the Eagles' intermediate passing game, Jackson could be poised for a monster second half of the season.