Does Jackson's Skills Fit West Coast Offense
By Lance Epstein
DeSean Jackson entered the NFL with a bang, taking the league by storm. Analysts and media members love his return ability and Jackson also garnered the attention of fans who fell in love with his electrifying play. The speed he plays at has left opponents in disbelief as he can beat defenses deep downfield for a touchdown on any given play.
However that was with a quarterback, Donovan McNabb, who relied heavily on the deep ball to create a much different version of the west coast offense than what will be implemented in 2010 and beyond.
Over the last three to five seasons, the Eagles offense has transitioned from a precision passing team with quick slant routes, to a team looking for the next big play.
One of the factors that made the Eagles tinker with the west coast offense was McNabb inability to be accurate. Numerous times McNabb would throw the ball into the dirt, over the heads of receivers or just waited too long to throw the ball.
McNabb is unlike the prototypical west coast quarterbacks like Joe Montana, Steve Young and now Kevin Kolb. McNabb's tendency to have hot and cold spells with his accuracy disabled the Eagles attempts to throw the typical short routes of a west coast offense. Ultimately Andy Reid had to adjust his game plan for the better of the team towards the end of McNabb's tenure in Philadelphia.
In all, McNabb's career perhaps may have benefitted from playing in an offense that was not conducive to pinpoint precision. In fact, he may strive under his new head coach Mike Shanahan's philosophy like John Elway did in the twilight of his career.
But how does this relate to the dynamic playmaker that is Jackson? Well, he is not exactly the ideal west coast offense type of receiver. Yes, Jackson has flourished over his first two seasons with the club due to his blazing speed and as a down the field threat.
However his body type does not fit Kevin Kolb and his strengths. Kolb does not have nearly the arm as McNabb does, but is going to beat teams by getting the ball out quick and with extreme accuracy in the intermediate range of the field. Quite the change in philosophy from a big strike offense and attacking down the field.
In a prototypical west coast offense, the wide receivers are envisioned as big, precise route runners who have soft hands, which prevent the ball from hitting the turf. To be completely honest, they are supposed to be like former Eagle Terrell Owens (but without the occasional drops) or emulate Niner great Jerry Rice.
Fans forget Owens and Rice would go over the middle all the time and take ferocious hits from hard-hitting safeties like Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed and even Brian Dawkins. Not only would they take them, they get back up and do it over again the very next play.
Unfortunately, Jackson does not have the size or the body to constantly take the beating he is going to receive going over the middle of the field. Opposing safeties and linebackers would be licking their chops at a chance for a jarring hit, and if offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg expects him to do that, Jackson might find himself on IR before the end of the season.
For instance just last year, Jackson ran a simple west coast offense route into the heart of the ferocious Redskins' defense. Most bigger and bulkier wide outs would take the punishment, got right back up and went into the huddle.
However, middle linebacker (and Eagles killer since he started Brain Westbrook's downward spiral) London Fletcher came up and laid the wood to the smallish wide receiver. On that particular play, Jackson suffered a concussion from being hit squarely on the shoulder. That is not a good sign for the Eagles who are going to be morphing into an offense that will require him to do that more.
Once all NFL defensive coordinators have the time to deeply study the game tape, they will demand their players get physical with Jackson. After that hit, the 165-pound receiver did not return punts, catch a pass and missed an entire half due to his concussion.
Think for a minute, Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams basically said he was aiming to hurt Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl. Do not put it past a defensive coordinator to take out a weapon.
Some more proof to that theory is that towards the end of the season teams became more physical with Jackson. In the last three games of the season, the Denver Broncos and the Dallas Cowboys completely eliminated him from the game by using force. Cowboys' corner Michael Jenkins was extremely physical with Jackson in the week 17 matchup and wild-card game. Jenkins basically took away Jackson's speed game, effectively shutting him down.
Before those two games, Broncos perennial All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey jammed him at the line preventing any release off the line, denying any chance to get downfield. What this illustrates is that receivers need to have the strength in a west coast offense to beat press coverage (in any offense actually) causing a breakdown in the precision timing might causing Kolb to hold onto the ball too long, turning him into a human piñata. Moreover, it may lead to costly interceptions due to the fact he thought his receiver should be there.
So why does a couple of bad games make for such a big concern? Considering Kolb's forte of being an "accurate" passer and not a strong candidate for throwing a bomb, Jackson is going to have to learn to run more over-the-middle routes. This is going to have fans holding their breath every single time he is in the middle of the gridiron, risking an injury that could take him out a couple weeks to even a season. Possibly even more important to the Eagles, Jackson might develop alligator arms due to fear of contact with defenders awaiting to put a crushing hit on the Eagles most critical playmaker on offense.
Of course, Reid will do some major tinkering and add some new wrinkles to the west coast offense that exhibit Jackson's skill set. Still, he would be taking away the biggest strength from his new starter at quarterback.
Additionally, this is a huge issue for the Eagles since Jackson and his agent Drew Rosenhaus are asking for a new lucrative contract. The Eagles must ask themselves whether they believe Jackson is worthy of top 10 receiver money, especially when he does not exactly fit the conventional west coast offense and has durability concerns. This may be one of the reasons that no new news has come out about a possible extension.
Coincidentally, towards the end of the year with Jackson struggling against the physicality of the Broncos and Cowboys, rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin had two of the biggest plays of the year for the Eagles. Against the Broncos, Maclin pulled in a critical third down reception to set the Eagles up for a last second field goal and the win.
Against the Cowboys in the playoffs, Maclin crossed over the middle of the field where Michael Vick hit him in stride for a long touchdown. That play alone nearly turned the momentum in the game. Maclin’s frame and body, is more typical of a west coast receiver. The Eagles may be more willing to wait with Jackson in order to resign Maclin to a lucrative contract down the road.
Certainly Jackson possesses rare speed and knack for putting up points very quickly, but he is not exactly the mold that Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, the creator of the west coast offense, had in mind for this type of system.
Yes, the former Cal Golden Bear can still a dynamic playmaker and oozes with talent and furthermore he has been a big factor in the Eagles' success over the last two years. No one is denying that fact, but his limiting strength, size and inability to take a jaw dropping hit and dust it off could potentially be a big problem for the new edition of the Eagles west coast offense.
In spite of everything Reid is still one of the best offensive minds in the game and has been for many years. He managed to hide McNabb's fatal flaw of lack of accuracy for nearly 11 years and got the Eagles to five NFC Championship games along with a Super Bowl appearance. So if anyone can scheme and mask this deficiency it is him.
For Reid and Mornhinweg, they will be forced every once and a while to send Jackson on a intermediate route that takes him into the middle of the field. However, they are going to be forced to come up with new creative ways to get the ball into the explosive wide outs hands with Kolb at quarterback.
Ultimately, Jackson might have thought he wanted and even asked for McNabb to be gone allowing the young guns to take over, but in the end it might be a costly decision on his part both financially and statistically.