When wide receiver DeSean Jackson was released from the Eagles last March, questions were abound as to the reasons why. Was it because of his contract? Was it due to off-field antics? Was it due to his work ethic and attitude? The truth is, it probably wasn’t just one thing, but if I had to put my finger on the biggest issue, it would be Jackson’s attitude on the field. Chip Kelly has a certain vision about the way football is supposed to be played, and Jackson’s playing style didn’t really mesh with that vision. Namely, I’m talking about two philosophies that Kelly implements with his team:
1) It takes 11 players to run the football, and
2) There are no football positions, just football players
What that second part (which was one subject of Mark Saltveit’s must read book The Tao of Chip Kelly) means is that if you are a wide receiver, your job isn’t to just catch passes. Your job is to catch passes on a pass play, and block on a run play. It’s that second part that Jackson has always had an issue with. It’s no secret that Jackson has never been committed to blocking. This week, former Washington Redskins tight end turned radio host and analyst Chris Cooley was critical of Jackson’s blocking efforts. Here’s what he had to say:
“Do not allow number 11 to ever be involved in blocking for screens, blocking for bubbles, picking for players in the pass game, [or] run plays to his side of the line of scrimmage,” Cooley said. “He WILL NOT TRY on them. Do not put him in in those situations…Find another way to break that tendency, but don’t risk losing a play just because you think 11 might try…Unless he’s going to say ‘I’ll make a legitimate commitment,’ do not put him in on those plays. It was costly in four or five different situations where plays could have been better.”
One of those plays Cooley pointed to was a bubble screen late in the Redskins game against the Arizona Cardinals. On a third down with one yard to go, Kirk Cousins threw a bubble screen to Andre Roberts. Jackson, blocking for the screen, allows his man to get by him and tackle Roberts in the backfield, and the Redskins had to punt. Here is the play:
Hearing this talk is nothing really new to Eagles fans who’ve seen Jackson’s lack of effort in the run game for years. That’s why it was so refreshing to watch happened during Sunday Night Football between the Eagles and the Giants. LeSean McCoy gained nearly 150 yards on 22 carries, mostly on runs outside the tackle which put the receivers in a position to be lead blockers for McCoy downfield. This is a role that Jackson is not committed too, and that doesn’t fly if you are going to play for Chip Kelly.
Jeremy Maclin, who the Eagles re-signed this off-season, has completely bought into Kelly’s philosophies and has done a great job of hustling on run plays and making key blocks downfield to help spring the running backs for additional yards.
Here is a play from last year against the Green Bay Packers. It was second down with nine yards to go as the Eagles were trying to run out the clock. Foles is going to keep the ball on a zone read. Jackson starts off the play by setting up for a screen, but then as the play turns into a run, he gives up. Foles ends up picking up the nine yards, but what should have been an easy gain for Foles turned into a difficult one because Jackson let his man free to go make a play.
Here is another play from the game against the Cowboys last year. Jackson isn’t even able to get a hand on the cornerback because of his lack of focus on this play, and the corner easily gets right by him.
Compare those plays to the following play from Sunday night. Maclin also begins the play setting up for a quick screen, but look what happens afterwards. Maclin doesn’t just sit back and jog around after his initial move, he quickly gets into position, focuses on what he has to do next, and makes a key block on the cornerback to allow McCoy to turn the corner and pick up a first down.
Maclin also made a key block against the Colts that helped spring Darren Sproles for a touchdown as well. Maclin begins the play by running a curl route option. After he sees the ball get handed to Sproles, he turns downfield to block the corner, and he’s able to seal off his man from getting a hand on Sproles.
Another issue with Jackson’s blocking is that even when he does get involved, he’s not committed to finishing his block. Too many times he would (and still does) allow his man to get by him after giving him an initial shove. That’s not how you’re supposed to block. LeSean McCoy had a chance to turn the corner on this play from the Giants game last year, but since Jackson doesn’t try to lock his man up, he easily gets by him after the initial contact and tackles McCoy.
Compare that to the following efforts from Maclin. Look at how long Maclin holds his block for on this play. If not for that effort, this would have been a five yard gain at most. But thanks to Maclin securing his block, McCoy was able to get downfield after turning the corner and picked up the first down.
Here’s another one. Look at how Maclin drives his man to the sideline to give McCoy a clear path to turn downfield. Also notice Jordan Matthews’ awareness in the slot. He sees that the offensive linemen will be able to take care of the two defenders in front of him, so he sprints downfield to block the safety to help spring McCoy for additional yards.
Josh Huff and Riley Cooper were also a huge part of the run game success on Sunday night. On this play, their efforts helped Darren Sproles turn the corner and sprint downfield for a fifteen yard touchdown.
The current core group of Eagles receivers get it. Maclin, Cooper, Matthews, and Huff all realize the importance of blocking and know that they aren’t getting paid to just catch passes. They are paid to be football players. They all have a selfless attitude and will do whatever it takes to help the team win games, and that’s why they are here.