I want to cast your minds back to week one. It was a much simpler time. DeSean Jackson exploded for 154-yards and 2 touchdowns in his return to midnight green, sending fans everywhere into a roar of elation. But since that moment, Jackson has missed every game due to an abdominal injury and the offense doesn’t appear to have that same level of absolute terror.
Of course, the numbers say otherwise. The Eagles passing offense still ranks 16th in the league and has scored the fourth-most passing touchdowns of any NFL team. But context is key. Carson Wentz is playing out of his mind and aside from Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, and Nelson Agholor, receiver production has been non-existent.
Miles Sanders has been the team’s leading deep-threat through the opening portion of the season and has led the Birds in receiving twice. This is a huge testament to his value as a versatile back, but it also raises a valid question.
Why is there a lack of help?
Mack Hollins has been the man standing in for DeSean Jackson. He’s played in 264 snaps, seeing just 19 targets, catching 10. For whatever reason, the UNC product just hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm, but Eagles offensive coordinator, Mike Groh, was quick to defend him on Tuesday.
We have a lot of confidence in [WR] Mack [Hollins] and what Mack’s been able to do. I think you’ll continue to see both those guys in the mix.
And then there at the end of the half, had the go ball there in the corner of the end zone, which I’m sure Mack would stand up and say, ‘I would like to make that play.’ It’s a 50/50 ball. It’s a contested play. We know that those kinds of plays are made and that they change games.
I think Mack is executing what his job has been assigned. The ball just hasn’t found him. He had a couple targets the other day. One was an off schedule, really more of a throwaway.
So, we haven’t lost any confidence in Mack, and we know that when the ball gets to him he’ll make a play.
So, if Hollins’ lack of production is just by chance, what about second-round selection-mate of Miles Sanders, J.J Arcega-Whiteside. Built in the same vein as Alshon Jeffery, the jump-ball specialist is probably best known for that heartbreaking drop against the Lions. In 148 snaps this season, he’s been targeted 7 times, catching just 2 of them for a total of 14 yards.
Mike Groh spoke of ‘cross-training’ the Stanford product. A sentiment backed up by Pederson in today’s presser.
“Yeah, it’s going well. And he’s the type of guy that can handle it. He is right now behind Alshon, and so obviously unless something happens to Alshon, it’s hard to break in, unless he needs a blow during the game.
But J.J. is ready every single week. He’s prepared. We factor him in on specific plays so he can kind of hone in on those plays during the week and have him ready to go”
So, Arcega-Whiteside is Baby-Alshon, who doesn’t have a direct path to a starting role since the Eagles guaranteed Jeffery’s 2020 salary not too long ago, and Mack Hollins is getting a bucketload of playing-time but is unable to do anything with it.
It’s really difficult to pen the apparent ‘offensive flaws’ on the lack of a deep threat, however. Carson Wentz has gone the majority of his career without one, after all.
In 2016, that man was….Dorial Green-Beckham. Oh, and Bryce Treggs.
In 2017, that man was…Torrey Smith. Smith flashed production, but went through a stretch even he cited was ‘one of the worst in his career’
In 2018, that man was…Mike Wallace, who didn’t get the opportunity to shine due to injury.
Living without a deep-threat is nothing new for Doug Pederson or Carson Wentz, neither is living with a lack of receiver production outside of 2-3 players. That’s expected for any team.
But you can make the assessment that the offense feels lacking without DeSean Jackson. It’s heightened by the fact that receivers have struggled with drops, errors, and setbacks all year, whereas Jackson had the return of dreams.
While DeSean Jackson tracked the ball like a homing missile, Alshon Jeffery run out of bounds on what felt like a guaranteed touchdown against the Vikings. There have been occasions where routes aren’t finished by receivers, others where basic fundamentals have completely evaded them.
The bottom line is, Carson Wentz can only do so much. The quarterback is playing some of the best football we’ve ever seen him play, but it’s being chained down by a receiving corps that just can’t seem to get out of its own way. As a result, the world naturally turns to DeSean Jackson as a savior. Maybe, just maybe, he will be
Every receiver is struggling, one way or another. It’s not DeSean Jackson’s absence that’s hurting the Eagles offense, it’s every other receiver on the roster.
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports