There are no murky questions about DeSean Jackson and his availability in the Eagles’ offense now. He’s having surgery on a core muscle injury and he’s out indefinitely. What head coach Doug Pederson and his offensive coaching staff face is the challenge of constructing an offense that wins with what it has, and, despite the absence of Jackson, the Eagles still do have enough playmakers to win down the stretch.
This isn’t an ideal situation, and I know there are a lot of questions about the course of action taken after Jackson suffered an abdominal injury early in the September 15 game against Atlanta. Opting against surgery and instead following a rest-and-rehabilitation practice, Jackson returned only for Sunday’s game against Chicago, played four snaps, caught one pass, and exited the field. He spent the rest of the game on the sidelines, upbeat, cheering on his teammates.
After the game, Pederson talked about Jackson leaving the game for “precautionary” reasons and adding that he would have more information following further testing. The information came on Monday afternoon, and it was a downer: Jackson is having surgery this week.
One note before looking ahead: This is a damn shame for Jackson, who was happier than anyone could be when the Eagles traded with Tampa Bay to bring him back to Philadelphia. “Home, sweet, home,” Jackson said on the day he held a press conference, and he truly meant it. Jackson worked hard throughout the offseason, blended in well with his teammates, and was a model Eagle. And, of course, he lit up the airwaves, literally, with his opening-game performance against Washington, catching eight passes for 154 yards, including touchdowns of 51 and 53 yards.
One week later, everything changed.
The Eagles have played without Jackson since the Washington game. They’ve had their ups and downs in those games and they’ve learned to adjust the game plan in his absence. This Eagles offense moves forward with Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery as the primary receivers. They’ll comb through the free agent lists to potentially add a veteran during the bye week. Hopefully, any new addition will be a solid role player in the passing game. Young receivers Mack Hollins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will have opportunities to step up their production, because the Eagles are going to need it from everybody.
Pederson and offensive coordinator Mike Groh will revolve the offense around what the team has now on the roster. You are going to see a lot of 12 personnel, with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert lined up all over the formation. You’re going to see Miles Sanders and maybe even Darren Sproles have some packages in the passing game designed for them. You’re going to see a team rely on its powerful offensive line to run the football and establish the line of scrimmage. You’re going to see quarterback Carson Wentz make plays with his arm and his legs.
You’re going to see an offense that has played without Jackson since Week 1, an offense that has been short of spectacular, but certainly has been mostly functional and, at times, terrific. The Eagles will move forward and continue to march toward the postseason with a defense that should be as whole as possible when New England comes to town after the bye week and an offense that still has some mighty good pieces.
What the offense does lack is the vertical speed that Jackson brings to the table. His presence alters the way defenses play. During this crucial week of self-examination, the Eagles have to find a way to become more explosive in the passing game. How can they beat defenses in the deep game?
Look, this is a tough day. Everybody roots for Jackson. He’s going through tough times. But that’s the business of the NFL. Pederson is a resilient coach and the team follows his lead. The offense is better with Jackson, no doubt about that, but it’s been pretty good without him. And that “pretty good” has a chance to be “very good” if the Eagles continue to play well up front, emphasize the running game, utilize the talented tight ends, and scheme a way to get more from the wide receivers.
That’s just the way it is. Life in the NFL can be cruel. The best teams shrug off setbacks and overcome challenges, and that’s what the Eagles intend to do.