Back in the summer, the idea of the Eagles lining up DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery as outside wide receivers with Nelson Agholor in the slot was exciting, the thought being that defenses would have all kinds of trouble trying to match Jackson’s speed and Jeffery’s size and Agholor’s route running and cunning inside the hashmarks.
Reality hasn’t matched the anticipation.
An abdominal injury that forced him out of the Week 2 game in Atlanta continues to haunt Jackson, who has just one reception since his opening day, eight-catch, two-touchdown, 154-yard game to open the season against Washington. Jeffery is coming off a game against Chicago in which he had two drops and through nine games has registered 34 receptions, with three touchdowns and a 10.4-yard-per-catch average. Agholor is averaging 8.8 yards per catch (he has 32 receptions), a number considerably below the season’s expectations.
Beyond those three receivers, the Eagles are getting no catch production from Mack Hollins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
So, the question is this: Can the Eagles win, and win big, in the final seven games and into the playoffs with the receivers playing as they are?
“It doesn’t matter who catches passes or runs the ball. We have so many weapons here that we just have to score points,” tight end Zach Ertz said after the Eagles defeated Chicago 22-14 on Sunday to reach 5-4 heading into their bye week. “One game, it’s going to be the wide receivers and the next week it could be the running game and then it could be the tight ends. That’s the beauty of this offense.”
Ertz is right in a lot of ways. The Eagles have weapons throughout the offense. The running game has been dynamic of late with Jordan Howard as the power back and rookie Miles Sanders providing the big-play skills as a runner and receiver out of the backfield. Ertz and Dallas Goedert form the best 1-2 tandem at tight end in the league. The offensive line has confirmed, again and again, that it’s as good as any in the NFL. And Carson Wentz has been a resourceful, ball-protecting quarterback who is winning games with his arm and his legs.
Now, about those wide receivers …
“It’s close. We’re close. We have to make the plays when we’re called on to do so,” said Agholor, who was targeted eight times against Chicago, finishing with three receptions for 21 yards. “We’re just going to keep working on it, keeping our confidence. We know we have great receivers here. We know we’re going to produce and help this team keep winning.”
The key is Jackson, who played four snaps against Chicago before leaving the game for “precautionary” reasons. Can he get on the field for the stretch run and stay there? Can he be the explosive, take-the-lid-off-the-top-of-the-defense wide receiver he has been his entire career and in Week 1 against Washington?
Nobody has that answer. In the meantime, the Eagles are in the midst of a playoff push and now have a week off. Maybe the bye weekend will provide a burst of energy for Jeffery and just the right amount of rest for Jackson and they’ll both come back at the top of their games against the Super Bowl-champion Patriots.
A position the Eagles thought was rock solid and among the best in the NFL hasn’t played up to expectations. A boost there would go a long way in the team’s playoff picture down the stretch. ••