Amid everything the Eagles have had happen to them this season – all the inconsistencies, the losses to lesser teams and the myriad mistakes and blown opportunities to have a clear lead in the NFC East – the most dominating reason they are under .500 in the final month of the regular season (but still alive in the NFC East!) is an injury suffered by a wisp of a man that seemed none too serious at the time.
Instead, it’s morphed into an injury that took a piece out of this offense that the Eagles have not been able to replace.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson has made a living in the NFL killing defenses with his speed. He’s only 5 feet 10 and 175 pounds, so Jackson has beaten coverage with his legs, his blinding burst that forces defenses to add a safety over the top to contain that dangerous vertical element in the passing game. The Eagles know all about Jackson, having used a second-round selection on him in the 2008 NFL Draft and having Jackson on the team through the 2013 campaign. Jackson was released after that season, a move then-head coach Chip Kelly made, much to the chagrin of Eagles fans everywhere.
Jackson spent the next five years playing for Washington and Tampa Bay before the Eagles made a trade with Tampa Bay and brought the mercurial playmaker back to Philadelphia for his 12th NFL season and some end-of-his-career glory.
And, indeed, there was plenty of glory in Week 1 of this season. Jackson’s name was announced to the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field before the opener against Washington and the fans went wild, delirious, fully expecting Jackson to change the direction of the Eagles offense and provide a legitimate deep threat for quarterback Carson Wentz. He did just that later that day, catching scoring passes of 51 and 53 yards among his eight receptions for 154 yards.
Good times, indeed.
One week later, Jackson left the game in Atlanta after 11 snaps with what was described as an abdominal injury. He played only four more snaps the rest of this season.
And you see how the offense has missed him.
As the Eagles prepare for Sunday’s game at Washington still aiming for an NFC East title, they are still searching for a consistent deep threat in the passing game. Everything has suffered with Jackson out – Wentz isn’t as effective and ranks among the worst in the NFL in explosive (20-plus yards) plays, the Eagles have had to scratch and claw for points, and easy touchdowns have been few and far between.
Without Jackson, the offense lacks explosiveness from the wide receivers and defense-breaking speed throughout. It has been a painful season in many respects – nobody saw the Eagles at 6-7, after Monday’s victory over the Giants – and while there is plenty of blame to go around, the most significant reason is Jackson’s injury and the Eagles’ inability to replace that threat in the offense.
So highly applauded as he returned to the Eagles, Jackson delivered in spectacular fashion in Week 1. As the Eagles try to find a way to win the NFC East, Jackson is in the rehab room getting himself ready for the 2020 season. Yes, every team has injuries in the NFL. The Eagles have again had plenty this year. One, in particular, changed the course of the year. Once Jackson went out, the Eagles didn’t have a way to replace him. Every bit of the offensive struggles started when No. 10 was injured. ••