Friday, March 28, 2014
Losing Jackson hurts, but how much?
By John Keim
The sad part of the DeSean Jackson mess is this: He was, and still is, a terrific talent. A Chip Kelly offense with Jackson ... and LeSean McCoy ... and a healthy Jeremy Maclin ... and Darren Sproles? That would have entertained one set of fans and scared the heck out of another.
Perhaps defensive coordinators can sleep a little better the night before facing Philadelphia now that the Eagles released Jackson. That is, unless the Eagles prove that life without Jackson is still a difficult one for defenses.
There's no way to sugarcoat the release of a talent such as Jackson. There's no need to get into the off-field aspects of the decision, other than to say it's a shame it came to this. And before the latest story broke on the receiver, prompting his release, some teams already considered him to be a walking red flag.
Still, my focus deals with his on-field performance and what it means for the Eagles. He was a dynamic receiver who helped make this offense dangerous. I don't care what system you run, or who's calling the plays, it's playmakers such as Jackson who can make any playcaller look good.
But the Eagles knew trouble was coming, which is why they were still able to construct an offense that should remain strong. Just as scary? It's hard to take out a guy such as Jackson and think it will just be the same. Quarterback Nick Foles targeted Jackson more than any other receiver last season (70 times) and completed 71.4 percent of those passes to him, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Nobody had more touchdown catches of 30-plus yards since 2008 (Mike Wallace shared the lead with 21).
Jackson was a guy who could open up the rest of the offense with his presence. One play by him could change a game, even if he didn't do a whole lot the rest of the way. The problem for defenses: They never knew which play it would be. Will the Eagles have anyone like that next season? Then again, given the depth of talent, do they need to?
Of course, the Eagles also were dangerous at times last season without Maclin (or Sproles, for that matter). If Maclin returns to form, he can be a dynamic threat. Two years ago he led the Eagles with 69 catches for 857 yards and seven touchdowns, but he's also never had a 1,000-yard season. However, he did have 46 more catches and five more touchdown receptions than Jackson in their time together with the Eagles.
And remember last summer? When Maclin was excited to be part of Kelly's offense because, he said, the previous one only wanted to feature Jackson's position -- and, therefore, Jackson?
"When Marty [Mornhinweg] was here, we tailored it around the flanker position," Maclin told CSN Philly in July. "That's just how it was ... The fact that I was able to personally accomplish what I accomplished, I think as far as the position I was playing, I think that's above what that guy normally does."
But, he said, there was no tailoring to one position in Kelly's offense. Indeed, part of what made their scheme dangerous is the multiple options to defend on a play. Run, by the quarterback or the running back, or pass. Bubble screen or hitting the tight end down the seam. Defenses had to worry about the multiple options available to Foles. Overplay one way and they could hit you the other. So the scheme works well when it has the right talent. And they should still have the right talent with not only Maclin but McCoy, Sproles, receiver Riley Cooper, and tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz.
The Eagles will survive cutting Jackson. Maybe if Sproles remains a threat, as I think he will, and Maclin is healthy and close to the same, then they can continue to flourish. But there's no way to say losing a guy such as Jackson will result in anything but questions. But the Eagles will move on -- and they will still move down the field. That could be wishful thinking on the Eagles' part, but for now, they have the parts to make them believe it will be a reality.