One of the most common arguments rotating around the minds of Eagles’ faithful is that, when the Eagles cut DeSean Jackson last year, it devastated the Eagles offense. Most importantly though, LeSean McCoy.
The common theory as to why McCoy struggled this year to be as electric and and dynamic of a runner is to blame DeSean Jackson’s departure. More specifically, the fact that the Eagles did not have a receiver who could take the top off of the defense allowed for opposing teams to drop an extra defender in the box and focus solely on the running game.
To an extent, this is a correct theory.
In 2013, the Eagles had the second ranked passing attack in the league to go along with the number one rushing attack in the NFL. In 2014, the Eagles offense plummeted all the way down to sixth in passing yards per game and ninth in rushing yards per game.
Now, I am not going to try and make the insane argument that losing Jackson didn’t hurt the Eagles. He is a supremely talented wide receiver who has game changing speed and can track a deep ball better than anyone else in the league.
However, I think his perceived value added to the other players on our team is severely overrated.
In 2013, with Jackson tearing it up for the Eagles, McCoy rushed for 1,607 yards and 9 touchdowns, while averaging a robust 5.1 yards per carry. Upon cutting Jackson, this year McCoy ran for 1,319 yards and only 5 touchdowns while putting up a pedestrian 4.2 yards per carry.
Most Jackson supporters point to this statistic to support their claim that Jackson’s game changing speed was the reason that McCoy had such a breakout year.
The only problem with this argument is that it completely disregards what Jeremy Maclin did as an Eagle. In 2014, Maclin posted 85 catches for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns. This equates to a 15.5 yards per catch average, ranking him 11th in the NFL in such a stat. In 2013, while on the Eagles, Jackson averaged 16.2 yards per reception. So, it is this difference of 0.7 yards per catch that has people up in arms over?
Then again, maybe the stats lie. Jackson doesn’t usually get as many catches, so maybe we should look more towards how many catches of 20+ yards each receiver got. That would show how much more effective Jackson is at blowing the lid off a defense than Maclin.
In 2013, Jackson had 25 catches of 20+ yards, which gives him 4 more catches of that distance than Maclin this past year.
The only other area one could look towards to see how much Jackson improves a running game is to see what he did with another team. This year, Washington ran the ball as a team 401 times. They averaged 4.2 yards per carry. This put them in a tie for 7th best in the NFL, tied with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Washington’s main running back, Alfred Morris, didn’t see an uptick in production either. He actually averaged a career low in yards per attempt (4.1) and rushing yards (1,074). We can’t blame this decline in stats to the Washington quarterbacks being unable to get Jackson the ball downfield either, as Jackson led the league in yards per catch at 20.9 to go along with his 1,169 receiving yards.
Jackson was effective, but their running game was far from elite.
Therefore, if losing Jackson is not the reason that the Eagles’ running game was pedestrian in 2014, what was. That, is a simpler answer.
Simply put, the offensive line was not nearly as good this year as it was in 2013. Offensive lines become dominant when they have elite chemistry among them. The Eagles suffered no injuries in 2013 to their starting five offensive linemen. 2014 saw incredible amounts of injuries and turnover. This led to a severe drop in holes for McCoy to run through. He was trying to make the first man miss 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage as opposed to 5 yards past it.
So, can we please stop trying to make Jackson out to be this mythical creature on the football field who granted high performances to his fellow teammates and look at the Eagles’ season as what it was. This was a good team that had some serious flaws which, in the end, caused us to miss the playoffs. It was not the loss of Jackson that doomed this team.