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With focus on Jackson, Eagles must adjust

9/30/2013

PHILADELPHIA -- DeSean Jackson had a frustrating day in Denver, from the pass that soared over his head on the Eagles’ first drive to the moment he blew off reporters in the postgame locker room.

Frustrate Jackson and you frustrate the Eagles’ entire passing game. That has quickly become the formula for stopping Chip Kelly’s offense.

With former teammate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie running with him stride for stride, Jackson was targeted six times by quarterback Michael Vick. Jackson caught just two passes for 34 yards.

“I think we have seen just a little bit more man [coverage],” Kelly said Monday, “and I think that's overall with everybody. But I also think we've been productive moving the football. I still think we're stopping ourselves. We are not getting stopped by a scheme and we are not getting stopped by a look.”

When Jackson isn’t open, Vick has trouble getting the ball to his other wideouts. Either Riley Cooper (two catches, 25 yards) and Jason Avant (one catch, seven yards) aren’t getting open, or Vick just doesn’t trust them with tight throws.

“It depends on what play,” Kelly said. “There's maybe one play where, yeah, he should have let it rip, but there's other plays where we have to do a better job of getting open and other plays where we have to do a better job of protecting him. It's a combination of the whole thing.”

Early in the game, Kelly had rookie tight end Zach Ertz lined up in the slot with Brent Celek also on the field. That was a rare look at the kind of inventive use of the tight ends Kelly teased fans with in the preseason. Kelly liked the matchups created when the Eagles ran against opponents’ nickel schemes, and he also seemed to get seduced by Jackson’s quick-strike potential.

As a result, free-agent pickup James Casey has just one catch in four games. The screen game disappeared almost entirely until Vick found Bryce Brown and LeSean McCoy for a couple of big plays Sunday.

On Monday, Kelly talked about getting running back Chris Polk some more playing time. He continued to defend the play of Cooper, who is valued more for his blocking ability than his receiving at this point. And he shed some light on Ertz’s development.

“We've seen more and more from him on a weekly basis here as he starts to continue to grasp what we are doing here,” Kelly said. “I expect him to grow. He's four games into his professional football career. So to see him run around and line up all over the place like Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints, I don't think anybody envisioned that as we put together an offense and start to figure out what he's good at, what he's not good at.

“There's a lot of details in doing it. It's not as easy as saying, ‘Hey, we drafted this guy and he has got the ability.’ Yeah, he does. But I also think we have to get him settled. It's not going to come with all of a sudden tomorrow we are going to come up with 17 different ways where we can deploy Zach and put him in different situations because it's not fair to him.”

Kelly had great success getting the ball to Jackson in the Eagles’ first two games. He caught 16 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns, and the Eagles scored a total of 63 points. The past two weeks, Jackson has five catches for 96 yards, and the Eagles scored a total of 33 points.

Defenses adjusted. Now Kelly has to find a way to counter. He isn’t getting Jeremy Maclin back this season, so he has to find production from Ertz, Celek and Casey at tight end, from the running backs and from the wideouts, including the underutilized Damaris Johnson.

If he does, who knows? Maybe defenses will have to back off and Jackson can break loose again.