DeSean keeping the faith in Eagles' new offense
DeSean Jackson's stats have fallen as Eagles opponents have changed coverages, but he's still confident.
TEAMS ARE PLAYING press/man coverage to eliminate the bubble screens and other short, quick throws the Eagles were using to great effect the first few games. But the Birds' running attack remains potent, DeSean Jackson said, and he still thinks he can get open against any cornerback playing him one-on-one, even with potential help from a single high safety.
"It's almost like you pick your poison," Jackson said yesterday, as the Eagles tried to put Sunday's 52-20 shellacking in Denver behind them and turn the focus to Sunday's visit with the Giants.
The problem is, the last two games, the poison opposing defensive coordinators picked didn't cause them anything worse than mild indigestion. The Eagles, who scored 63 points against the Redskins and the Chargers, have managed only 36 in losing to the Chiefs and Broncos. They're still moving the ball decently - they rank second in NFL offense with 458.8 yards per game, behind only those Broncos and their amazing 483. But with defenses doing a better job of pressuring Michael Vick, and Vick not comfortable with what he's finding downfield, the points are way down.
Jackson is the most dramatic example of the switch. He caught 16 passes for 297 yards and two TDs the first two games, but since then has only five catches for 96 yards, with no touchdowns.
"I think DeSean battled and did a good job" against Denver, Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said yesterday. Asked whether Jackson shouldn't win most man-to-man battles, Shurmur said: "He does. He's like any receiver, though. When they come up and play man-to-man on you, you've got to win your matchup."
It wasn't clear what Shurmur meant there. One guess is he was saying Jackson wins a lot of such matchups, but could win more.
What's strange is that in Andy Reid's offense, it was zone schemes that tended to limit Jackson's production,, since it was hard for the Eagles' longball threat to get behind the defense. Now, against press/man, you would think Jackson would often be open deep, assuming Vick ever has a clean pocket from which to find him.
"The past 5 years, that's what I've been prayin' for, people to play me man-to-man," Jackson said. "That's what I love, man. So I go out there and do my job to get open. At the same time, it's not only myself. Like [Michael Vick] said, it has to be all-around . . . what goes into blocking schemes - [it's more than] me just going out there and getting open."
Jackson was asked whether his talents are being utilized well in this offense right now.
"Honestly, the first couple games, I guess you'd say yes. The last couple, it's been some little struggles, regardless of what the play calls are and what positions I'm being put in, but I feel the offense definitely has the right plays, has the right scheme," Jackson said. "It's just [we have] to really get back to trusting in it and believing in it. I guess we've played two pretty good corners the last couple games, where, in my eyes, I still feel I can get open . . . the opportunity just wasn't really there like it was in the first couple of games.
"I just really hope I can get back to the opportunity to take a shot downfield . . . I honestly feel there's not one man that can really stop me in this league."
Vick said, "We have to come together and figure out ways to beat man coverage, and we will."
He added that they need to "find ways to move [Jackson] around. DeSean's a professional, he understands what it takes to get open, what he needs to do. We're all a work in progress. We've got to figure out ways to up our game, improve our game. Obviously, it's up to me to get the ball to him . . . we'll figure that out. We were just on the practice field talking about ways to get him the ball . . . You don't want to force it to him. Let it happen naturally. It'll happen."
Vick said the big plays Jackson made earlier were "different route concepts."
"We've just got to get back to doing the things we do naturally," Vick said. "Getting the ball out quick . . . we're looking forward to the changes we're going to make" after enduring what Vick called "growing pains."
But of course, Jackson might be open more if the other receivers gave defenses something to worry about. If that single high safety is worried about Jackson, somebody else should have a lot of field and one cover guy to beat. With Jeremy Maclin out for the season after knee surgery, the team's second-leading receiver is sturdy plugger Jason Avant, with 12 catches in four games, for 146 yards. The Eagles don't have anyone other than Jackson averaging as much as 40 receiving yards a game, which is not what we all envisioned from the high-flying Chip Kelly offense.
"Guys gotta take pressure off DeSean," Vick said. "We can't rely on DeSean to make every play. We can't rely on DeSean every game to catch a deep ball. This league is tough, and you've got smart defensive coordinators who game plan for him. Other guys got to step up and do their jobs, and they will."
One of those other guys is Maclin's replacement, Riley Cooper (eight catches for 93 yards). Cooper, who lacks blazing speed, was asked yesterday whether he is the type of receiver who can outmuscle a defender for a jump ball. Vick, criticized strenuously for turning the ball over too much the past few seasons, seems reluctant to throw those.
"I'd like that, yeah. I feel like I can do that," Cooper said. "It'll come. This [scheme] is all new, to everybody. It just takes time. It's four games in. Everybody's got to get on the same page."