Eagles’ Alshon Jeffery ‘not worried about targets’ after his production has slowed down
Alshon Jeffery, the Eagles' No. 1 wide receiver, returned from offseason shoulder surgery in Week 4 and immediately offered the Eagles a jolt, with 25 catches for 306 yards and four touchdowns in his first four games.
The second play of the Eagles' game-winning drive in Sunday's win over the New York Giants was a 21-yard reception by Alshon Jeffery, with about 14 yards coming after the catch. Jeffery juked his way near midfield while making three defenders miss, displaying run-after-the-catch elusiveness that's not considered a staple of the 6-foot-3, 218-pound receiver.
"That surprised you a lot, huh?" Jeffery said. "I got that in my bag."
It would behoove the Eagles to see everything in Jeffery's bag, but he needs the ball to do so. The team's No. 1 wide receiver returned from offseason shoulder surgery in Week 4 and gave the offense a jolt, with 25 catches for 306 yards and four touchdowns in his first four games. He had at least eight targets in each game.
Since then, though, the Eagles haven't looked Jeffery's way often enough. He has only 15 catches for 155 yards in the last four games, averaging only 5.25 targets per game.
Jeffery isn't speaking out about it – that hasn't been his style since signing in Philadelphia before last season – and he continues to pledge a team-first approach.
"Whatever it takes for us to win a game, man," Jeffery said. "That's all that matters. I'm not worried about targets. No one is. We're just trying to win a game."
The lack of targets are not the result of different coverages. Offensive coordinator Mike Groh said defenses cover Jeffery as they always have – opponents' game plans likely highlight No. 17 – and Jeffery said he hasn't seen any changes.
"Whatever the defense shows, we're executing our game plan and go with our next option," Jeffery said.
Coach Doug Pederson, who calls the plays, knows he needs to get Jeffery the ball. Sometimes a play designed to feature Jeffery doesn't materialize.
The Eagles opened the game with a run-pass option. Jeffery could have been the intended target, but the pass went to Zach Ertz instead, netting 19 yards.
The Eagles then went to a no-huddle offense. Had they huddled, the script called for a deep pass to Jeffery, Pederson said. Instead, Josh Adams ran 52 yards for a touchdown, which was negated by a penalty.
"As the game wore on, we were able to get him some touches," Pederson said. "He made a big catch and run there in the fourth quarter to set up a nice scoring drive. So, yeah, each week we try to keep him coming, keep him involved."
Jeffery might have had more targets in the previous game, against the Saints, if the Eagles ran more plays, but a lackluster offense has reduced the statistics of just about every pass catcher other than Ertz.
Wide-receivers' coach Gunter Brewer said "the ball tends to find the guy that's open," and there's a progression on every play. However, Jeffery is the type of player the Eagles should make sure gets the ball thrown to. Last season, the Eagles had a package called "17 plays" designed for him.
"I think that's for all our guys who have the ability to make the plays," Brewer said about focusing on getting Jeffery the ball. "Coach does a tremendous job of making sure the play's in there. The defense can play you a certain way that maybe takes the coverage to the No. 1 you put in, and all of a sudden, it's not the No. 1."
A recent change has been the addition of Golden Tate. Carson Wentz targeted Tate 16 times in the last two games – more than Jeffery and Nelson Agholor combined. The Eagles have had a challenging time integrating Tate into the offense. The Eagles have a lot of mouths to feed, and the ball can only go to one player on a play, so Pederson is often left explaining why some player wasn't involved enough. It's been Tate, Agholor, and Jeffery in recent weeks. A case could be made for rookie tight end Dallas Goedert, too. Jordan Matthews' playing time is down since the Tate trade.
And don't forget all the pleas to run the ball.
"We're trying to get everybody the ball," Pederson said. "There is only one football. You think about the four, five receiver positions that we have, and you have two tight ends. All part of the game plan. Sometimes you just don't know where the ball is going. You put a certain personnel group out there, but we have a certain progression, too. I've talked about game planning for Alshon, game planning for Ertz, and things like that, and a lot of times it's just kind of the way the ball goes, and it goes to that person."
Jeffery will be in focus on Monday, when he will line up across from Washington cornerback Josh Norman. Jeffery had only five catches for 75 yards in two games against the Redskins last season, although Jeffery has had success against Norman. In 2016, while Jeffery was in Chicago, he had five catches on 10 targets for 92 yards against Norman. Pederson has watched every target that day to see how Norman covered Jeffery.
Jeffery said it doesn't matter who lines up against him. He has friends in Washington's secondary, including safety D.J. Swearinger. You can bet there will be trash talking between the former South Carolina teammates – "I look forward to it," Jeffery said – and Jeffery might even have a chance to elude him, as he did Giants defenders on Sunday.
Jeffery doesn't often show off that skill, but if he gets the ball enough, it could happen again.
"Just playing football," Jeffery said. "That was a play in the game I got a chance to show it."