DeSean Jackson is back, having worked through the cobwebs of his in-game concussion suffered against the Redskins, recovered from the internal agony of watching the game in Atlanta from his living-room couch -- fidgeting all the way -- and now dusting off the hesitancy as he gets back to the tempo of practice and then, on Sunday, the game.
Once upon a time, not too very long ago, taking a key player like Jackson off the field meant a shutdown of sorts for the Eagles offense. These days, that isn't the case. The Eagles have shown enough depth to keep the offense humming without so many key pieces this year, and they did the same without Jackson for a comeback portion of the win against Washington and for 60 minutes of the laugher in Atlanta.
But now that Jackson is back, and all the way back and ready to go and to be Roadrunner-fast and lightning-quick and as dangerous as ever against the Giants, it is important that we place his importance in the proper context: Jackson is a home-run hitter, a superior play-making football player who needs his touches.
The hope here is that Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg don't feel the need to "ease" Jackson back into the offensive picture. No, sir. In a game like this, with so much riding on the verdict against the Giants, the best players need the football the most. And Jackson is the best player in the offense. There is no dispute about that.
And he needs the football.
I wanted to tell you that the Eagles, in their four losses, too often looked away from Jackson and, thus, the offense stalled. But Jackson caught 4 passes against New Orleans, 6 against Oakland, only 2 against Dallas and then 8 against San Diego. So, you could argue that case in the Dallas game and maybe even in the Oakland game, but it doesn't apply throughout. My argument is that Jackson should never be "taken away" by a defense's coverage and the attention paid to him. What's strange here is that in the seven wins Jackson has taken part in, he has averaged 4.1 touches. In the four losses, he has averaged 5.75 touches. (The numbers do not include the return game).
So maybe there isn't a particularly locked-in case I can make for how important it is to get Jackson the ball against New York. Maybe there is no statistical correlation here, no iron-clad data that says that if Jackson touches the ball so many times, the Eagles will average so many points.
I just know that the Eagles need to get down the field against New York, and that Jackson is the most lethal weapon they have.
New York's pass coverage has been up and down this year. Injuries to linebacker Antonio Pierce, cornerback Aaron Ross and safety Kenny Phillips have really retarded the growth of New York's back seven. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo passed for nearly 400 yards in the game last Sunday. There were certainly plays to be made by the Cowboys. When it mattered, though, New York's defense prevailed.
The challenge for the Eagles offense is to maximize drives. Yeah, yeah Donovan McNabb will "take what the defense gives him" and we know how that footballspeak goes. The Giants could very well play a deep shell and give up a bunch of underneath stuff and force the Eagles to score touchdowns in the red zone. That is a common line of thinking, that there is no way the Giants will let Jackson and Jeremy Maclin get over the top of the safeties.
If that's the case, so be it. The Eagles have to be efficient. They have to give McNabb time to set up and throw the ball -- the forecast is for cold weather, but not overly windy -- and then move the chains and get into scoring position. I don't know how many long balls the Eagles will attempt. I don't know how many seven-step drops you want to have against a very dangerous Giants pass rush.
Jackson has to be a focal point in every game the rest of the season. The Eagles have been extremely creative getting him his touches and that has to continue. He averages 17.5 yards per catch. He can run the ball from anywhere in the formation. He is the biggest of the big-play members of the Eagles offense, and he has to be front and center in whatever the Eagles do offensively on Sunday night.
The Eagles made it through a game without Jackson, just as they have done minus Brian Westbrook and Kevin Curtis, etc. for most of the season. Now the pieces are starting to come back to the puzzle, and the challenge for the coaching staff is to keep the rhythm and still get the best players the most touches.
Jackson is the best player. He needs the touches. New York, I'm sure, has a player in practice this week (Sinorice Moss, maybe?) wearing a red No. 10 on its scout team. The Giants are well aware of Jackson's ability and they are going to try to smother him. No matter. He needs the football to make the offense take flight.
The haze of the concussion is over and Jackson is doing his thing in practice. On Sunday night, in the glare of the national television lights, Jackson must be the featured piece of an Eagles offense hoping to click for 60 minutes in a huge, huge NFC East game.