PHILADELPHIA -- One of the common assumptions about the Philadelphia Eagles offense is that it needs someone to draw the attention wide receiver DeSean Jackson received last year. Head coach Chip Kelly blew a hole through that line of reasoning Monday.
"I think most people played us in single high [safety] coverage and they played man across the board on anybody and no one was getting any help," Kelly said. "Riley [Cooper] was getting man [coverage] on his side. DeSean was getting man on his side. Jason Avant was getting man in the slot. Zach Ertz, whoever our tight end was, was getting manned. Running back was getting manned.
"No one is going to play us in two [safeties] deep because if you play us in two deep, we can run the heck out of the ball. We had everybody as close to the line of scrimmage as possible and nobody was helping anybody. They were trying to stop the run game."
Kelly's position makes perfect sense. Defenses had to place focus on the Eagles' running game. LeSean McCoy led the NFL with 1,607 rushing yards, so he was the first problem defensive coordinators had to address. Of course, part of the outcry when the Eagles released Jackson was based on the belief that double-covering Jackson created more space for McCoy to run.
There were certainly times teams shaded that deep safety to Jackson's side of the field. But when Jackson was effectively contained by an opposing defense, it was generally because a bigger, more physical cornerback was able to jam him at the line of scrimmage and disrupt his timing.
The playoff game against New Orleans was a perfect case in point. The Saints mixed up their coverages, playing a fair amount of zone. At times, cornerback Keenan Lewis was assigned to cover Jackson by himself and he did, holding Jackson without a catch. Late in the third quarter, Lewis was forced to leave the game with a concussion. On the next play, Nick Foles found Jackson open for a 40-yard gain.
Jackson caught three passes for 53 yards, all after Lewis was injured. Over the last six weeks of the regular season, Jackson had one big game (10 catches, 195 yards at Minnesota). He didn't catch more than four passes or reach 100 yards in any of the other six games.
McCoy went over 100 rushing yards in three of the last six games. His lowest production? In Minnesota, where he ran eight times for 38 yards. So much for Jackson creating space for McCoy.
The decision to release Jackson put pressure on Kelly to replace the Pro Bowler's production. But Kelly is more concerned with finding receivers who can beat press coverage than with duplicating Jackson's speed. The best part of this is that it will all sort itself out on the field this year.