PHILADELPHIA (AP) — DeSean Jackson went from unstoppable to invisible in two weeks.
The two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver was off to a remarkable start for the Philadelphia Eagles before defenses suddenly found a way to shut him down. Jackson had 16 catches for 297 yards and two touchdowns in the first two games. Then he followed that up with only five catches for 96 yards and no scores in the next two.
“We’re doing things similar to what we did early in the season,” Jackson said. “First two games, we had success, but teams study, teams make adjustments and that’s where we’re at right now. Teams saw what we did, adjusted and did a great job.”
The cornerbacks on the Redskins and Chargers played off Jackson, giving him about an 8-yard cushion at the line of scrimmage. He exploited that coverage, turning short passes into long gains and blowing past defenders for deep receptions.
But the Chiefs and Broncos used press coverage against Jackson, jamming him at the line and disrupting his route. The diminutive Jackson — generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds — isn’t the type of wideout who can break away from guys by outmuscling them.
“I don’t feel teams are taking me out,” Jackson said. “I don’t feel I’m being shut down, but the numbers aren’t the same. At times it gets frustrating not having the production.”
Jackson faced two top cornerbacks the past two weeks in Kansas City’s Brandon Flowers and Denver’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. While some teams double-cover Jackson by rolling a safety over to help the cornerback, pressing him — the way Flowers and Rodgers-Cromartie did — seems more effective.
“I honestly don’t feel there’s one man that can stop me in this league,” Jackson said.
The numbers say otherwise.
Getting Jackson back on track will be important for the Eagles (1-3) when they try to snap their three-game losing streak at the New York Giants (0-4) on Sunday. Quarterback Michael Vick spent a big part of the practice week working on ways to get Jackson more involved.
“We just have to find ways to move him around,” Vick said. “DeSean is a professional; he understands what it takes to get open and what he needs to do. We all are a work in progress and have to figure out ways to up our game and improve our game. Obviously, it’s up to me to get the ball to him and find him in moments where I need him the most. We’ll figure that out.
“But the one thing we don’t want to do, we don’t want to try to force it, we want to let it happen naturally, and it’ll happen.”
The Eagles clearly miss Jeremy Maclin, who tore a knee ligament in training camp. Maclin was an excellent route-runner and sure-handed receiver who averaged 65 catches over his first four seasons.
Riley Cooper replaced Maclin in the starting lineup and has just eight receptions for 93 yards. Slot receiver Jason Avant has 12 catches for 146 yards. The trio of tight ends — Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey — were expected to play a major role in coach Chip Kelly’s offense, but have combined for 13 receptions.
“Guys have to take pressure off DeSean,” Vick said. “We can’t rely on DeSean to make every play. We can’t rely on DeSean every game to catch a deep ball. This league is tough and you have smart defensive coordinators who gameplan for him. Other guys have to step up and do their jobs and get open, and they will. I’m not worried about the man coverage. I’m not worried about the aspect of us not being able to be effective throughout the game versus man coverage.
“That’s going to happen, and we have ways to beat that.”
While Jackson said the Eagles are doing the same things offensively they did earlier in the year, Vick suggested that’s not the case.
“The big plays that DeSean made earlier in the season were on different route concepts,” Vick said. “We just have to get to doing the things we do naturally, getting the ball out quick and that’s all in the game plan and scheme.”
Despite Jackson’s declining production, the Eagles are still moving the ball well. They’re ranked second in the NFL in total yards (458.8). But they’re having a tough time in the red zone and are 12th in points (24.8).
“I still think we’re stopping ourselves,” Kelly said, referring to penalties and turnovers. “We are not getting stopped by a scheme and we are not getting stopped by a look.”