No matter what you think of the efficacy of college coaches moving to the NFL, Chip Kelly to the Eagles always made sense because of the team's electrifying athletes at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. This year, they've looked unstoppable through two games, and even after last week's struggles against the Chiefs, you can find LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson at or near the top of the leaderboards for their respective positions. Meanwhile, Michael Vick is 33 and looks as good as he ever has. McCoy leads the NFL with 395 receiver yards (Doug Martin is in second, nearly 100 yards off the pace), and Jackson is second in the league with 359 receiving yards. However, it's Jackson who we're going to take a further look at in this column.
In 2009 and 2010, Jackson combined for 2,212 yards and 15 touchdowns, and his career had been a steady decline ever since. He fell off to 961 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. Last year he played just 11 games, set a career low with 700 yards and tied his career-worst touchdown output of two. He became a home-run hitter in his second year in the league, but that had escaped him in recent seasons, as well. He averaged 18.6 yards per catch in 2009, and increased that number to 22.5 the following year. It crashed to 16.6 in 2011 and dipped another full yard last season. Even with Kelly and his new-look offense in town, you could forgive fantasy owners for allowing Jackson to slip outside the top-30 receivers in draft season. He needs the big play to be an impact receiver, and it was hard to bet on him hitting on a lot of those this year.
But it's not even October yet, and that thought already looks foolish. Jackson caught two passes for more than 40 yards against the Chargers in Week 2, including his 61-yard touchdown. He had another 37-yard score nullified by an illegal formation penalty, and Vick targeted him on four more passes in which the ball traveled at least 20 yards in the air. He finally had a quiet game against Kansas City, but he still had one catch that went for 40 yards.
He's not just making plays down the field, though. Jackson is making plays all over the field, which is where we can really see the Kelly influence. I watched all 15 of Jackson's targets from the Week 2 game with San Diego. By my count, those 15 targets came out of 10 formations. Kelly isn't letting teams get comfortable with Jackson's location on the field, and the way he constantly shakes it up is reaping rewards.
Let's examine two plays to get an idea of how the different looks the Eagles are throwing at opposing defenses have helped Jackson rediscover his big-play mojo. The first is his 41-yard reception in the second quarter. It's 1st and 10 on the Philadelphia 42. Jackson is the receiver nearest the line on the right side of the formation. A receiver with Jackson's speed typically lines up outside the numbers. Not so with Kelly at the helm.
The Eagles run four verticals here, a staple of any offense. The linebackers are so preoccupied with Vick's read-option-style playfake to McCoy that they can't drop underneath Jackson's route. With Jackson crossing the 50 wide open, it's simple pitch and catch. And with all the space created by the confusion that Jackson has after the reception, he's able to run with it for another 23 yards.
Fast forward to the third quarter. The Eagles trail 20-13 and have a 2nd and 6 on their own 39. This time, Jackson's all alone on the right side of the formation, outside the numbers like a more traditional wideout. The tight end is left, and McCoy is also to Vick's left.
You can see at the start of the play that strong safety Marcus Gilchrist is playing single high. Free safety Eric Waddle has crept down showing that he might cover Brent Celek one-on-one. That means it'll be up to Gilchrist to determine whether his help is needed on Jackson or on the strong side of Philly's formation. With Vick looking left at the start of the play, Gilchrist decides to play the strong side. It was the wrong decision. Now facing man-to-man coverage, Jackson makes one subtle move and then he's off to the races.
The Eagles will continue to be inventive all year long. After their Week 1 pasting of the Redskins, Vick said they only showed about 60 percent of their playbook. Even after Jackson caught just three passes for 62 yards against the Chiefs, there's plenty of reason to be bullish on him. With the variety of formations and plays run out of those in this offense, he's primed for the best year of his career.
All images are screen shots of All-22 film.
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