BGN's most successful graduate, Jimmy Kempski, riled up the Eagles fanbase today with an article forcefully arguing that the Birds miss DeSean, specifically for his explosion plays.
That makes a lot of sense. It's hard to think of a faster deep threat in the NFL today, or one with better hands. But I don't think there's enough evidence yet to make that conclusion.
Kempski makes it clear that he's not arguing that Philadelphia should have kept DeSean, or disputing their better record and culture. And his position is not really a surprise. Last April, before there were any post-DeSean games to evaluate, Kempski wrote that "Replacing DeSean Jackson's Explosive Play Will Be Nearly Impossible for the 2014 Eagles." In fact most of the statistics in today's article were also in last April's, including the chart of DeSean's long plays last year.
That chart includes an impressive number of touchdowns (17) and points (141) from Jackson's catches. Except that he didn't score those points. The statistic is a bit of a stretch, calculating all the points that resulted from any drive during which he caught a long pass, which is a great way of masking the fact that DeSean is essentially worthless in the red zone.
In fact, Jackson had only 9 TDs on 82 receptions last year, while the much-maligned Riley Cooper had 8 TDs on only 47 receptions. Cooper also had more yards per reception (17.8) than Jackson (16.2). If anything, the Eagles miss Riley Cooper's big plays this year; he has been a huge disappointment. (More on that in a second.)
Let's take the simplest comparison -- DeSean versus his replacement, Jeremy Maclin. Djax has 7 completions of 20 yards or more this year, and 3 TDs. Maclin has 7 completions of 20 yards or more, and 4 TDs. Zach Ertz has 7 completions of 20 or more yards (best among NFL tight ends, and 4th among all NFL receivers), with 2 TDs. Jordan Matthews only has 2 catches of 20+, but he has 2 TDs. The problem does not seem to be a lack of long passes, or passing TDs.
Statistics can bend or shade reality, so let's take a step back and look at some realities of this situation.
- Deep passing requires good pass protection. The Eagles' offensive line has been missing 4 of its best 7 players for much of the year.
- DeSean got a lot of his production during the few games when Mike Vick was still quarterback last year, including 3 of his 8 40+ yard passes. Foles can throw long, but Mike Vick's great arm was a big part of DeSean's success during his years in Philadelphia.
- Kirk Cousins has a big arm (he threw some beautiful long passes against the Eagles) and a reckless streak, which is a great combination for DeSean's statistics, but caused Cousins to lose his starting position to Colt Friggin' McCoy.
- Nick Foles has been shaky at best this year. Some of it is the OL, but he has missed a lot of wide open receivers too. In particular, he is only 27/59 to Maclin, usually going deep, and according to Pro Football Focus Maclin has NO drops. If DeSean was still in Philadelphia, Foles would probably be missing him too.
- New receivers Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff are more of slot receivers, which may be shifting the Eagles' passing game to shorter passes. And/or Foles might have needed to dump the ball quickly to avoid getting sacked.