Let's talk wide receivers, and let's marvel at the accomplishments in two games by the Eagles offense: 38 points against St. Louis, 30 (minus the defensive touchdown) against Dallas with the wide receivers doing some major damage. Who'd a thunk it? Not with Kevin Curtis sidelined. Not with Reggie Brown out. Led by rookie DeSean Jackson's 12 catches for 216 yards -- and 18-yard-per-catch average -- the Eagles have been explosive and part of a big-play attack to open the season.
Brown is expected back for Pittsburgh on Sunday. To what degree he plays, we don't know. A good guess is that Brown will come in as part of the usual rotation of personnel packages, but he could walk right in as a starter (unlikely) or he could simply get some spot duty here or there (maybe, but ...). The coaches are going to have trouble justifying taking Jackson off the field. He has been outstanding early in his career, breaking the 100-yard mark in both game, defeating coverage at the line of scrimmage, reading coverages and settling into creases in the secondary.
I spoke with former Eagles great wide receiver Mike Quick on Wednesday night about Jackson, about the wide receivers. Quick thinks the Eagles have been productive for a couple of reasons, namely that coaches Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg are excellent at game planning, exposing defensive weaknesses and, yes, "putting the receivers in positions where they can do some damage." Another reason, said Quick, is that this receiving corps, with Jackson very much included, is a lot better than some people believe.
"He makes everybody on the field better," said Quick of Jackson. "I saw it the first time I watched him play. He's a little guy, and durability is always going to be a question because of his size, but I saw things that were so subtle and so natural from the very start. He goes into a break and comes out of a break at the same time, and he always creates separation. He catches the ball naturally. He has a good feel for the offense, he senses how a defender is playing him. He's leaving a lot of guys in the dust, and that is going to continue."
What, I asked Quick, are some of the things Jackson can work on to improve this season?
"That's a good question," said Quick. Then he paused.
And then answered.
"He can improve on not dropping the football before he crosses the goal line," said Quick, laughing. "Otherwise, he is already a pretty complete player. He is going to be a special receiver here and is going to have that kind of career."
Jackson has many, many tests ahead of him, but it is obvious that he is right now the go-to receiver down the field. He has to, however, learn to defeat the myriad coverages he is going to face. He has to understand that all the attention he is now receiving for his gaffe on Monday night in Dallas is not a good thing. What Jackson needs to be recognized for is his skill as a receiver and the way he has contributed.
I wonder when defenses will get up in his face and try to jam him at the line of scrimmage, but Quick doesn't think that is going to happen very often.
"A cornerback is scared out of his mind to come up at the line of scrimmage against DeSean," said Quick, "because he is going to run right past him and it's going to cost a defense seven points. That is not a concern at all. Don't worry about it. It won't happen much. Somebody will try it and DeSean will get his release and then he's gone. Then nobody will do it again."
It really is exciting how the receivers have played. Greg Lewis, ignored for much of last season, has eight catches and is averaging 17.5 yards per reception. Jason Avant has five grabs and has been tough and reliable out of the slot. Hank Baskett didn't get a lot of action on Monday night, but he had a huge game in the opener and is going to get more chances.
Brown's return is going to help. He has deep speed, runs good routes and is going to benefit immensely from Jackson's presence. Jackson is going to draw help over the top and Brian Westbrook is going to get a lot of attention, so Brown could see a bunch of single coverage against a weaker coverage defender. Brown could work his way into the picture very quickly if the Eagles continue to throw down the field a lot.
Kevin Curtis? We won't dig into his return until later, but the update is that he is running again, is "ahead" of schedule, said head coach Andy Reid, but is still some time away from playing again.
In the meantime, the Eagles wide receivers are thriving. On Sunday they work against an outstanding Steelers secondary that gives different looks, that plays a physical game, and that features safety Troy Polamalu and his versatile skills. Pittsburgh plays the ball, thrives on turnovers and is not going to back down to Jackson's speed.
Wide receiver was a huge question mark coming into the season. Two weeks have gone by, and the Eagles have been a passing fancy offensively. So far, so very good.