Without a shadow of a doubt, the Philadelphia Eagles (1-1) have one of the most exciting and dynamic offenses in the NFL. Their fast-paced offense currently ranks second in rush yards per game (176), eighth in plays per game (68), third in yards per game (477) and fourth in points per game (31.5). Despite their 33-30 loss to the San Diego Chargers (1-1) on Sunday, the Eagles offense racked up a total of 511 yards.
This team has a plethora of electrifying players at the skill positions, including quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy. However, the playmaking ability of wide receiver DeSean Jackson may be the ingredient that makes this offense so successful.
It seems strange to make this assessment just after a game in which Vick passed for 428 yards and McCoy finished with 167 yards of total offense, but Jackson was partly responsible for both of their stellar performances.
Philadelphia is conducting a run-first offense in 2013, totaling 69 rushing attempts and 62 passing attempts so far this season. So why is a wide receiver in a run-heavy offense so irreplaceable?
Simply put, Jackson forces the defense to show its hand, which, in turn, dictates what the Eagles offense will do as a counter.
The stranglehold Jackson has on an opposing defense was clearly evident on this second-quarter play from Sunday's game against the Chargers.
The Eagles are about to run a simple screen here to McCoy. Jackson and Riley Cooper are lined up wide. Notice how much room to maneuver is available in the middle of the field. This is due to the secondary playing so far off the line of scrimmage:
The screen is run with precision. McCoy gets the ball in his hands with three blockers in front of him. They will create a crease to spring him into the open field:
Before McCoy gets his first glimpse of a member of San Diego's secondary, he has already gained seven yards. Keep in mind that he is now one-on-one with a defender in the open field:
This is generally what happens in this instance. McCoy makes a great move, leaving the defender on the turf:
McCoy is finally tackled after a 21-yard gain:
Now, watch the play in its entirety:
So, what did Jackson have to do with this play? As noted earlier, the secondary was playing way off the line of scrimmage, which opened up the middle of the field so nicely for McCoy. So why was the secondary playing so deep?
The answer lies in the play that transpired just before the screen:
Even though the deep attempt to Jackson resulted in an incomplete pass, his ability to get behind the Chargers secondary forced their hand, causing them to remain deep in coverage. Once Eagles head coach Chip Kelly sees that defensive alignment, a screen becomes the obvious choice of play. The execution of the screen was flawless, and the effectiveness was magnified by Jackson's ability to keep the defense honest.
Later in the game, after some shorter plays, Jackson struck:
This 70-yard touchdown reception was just one play in Jackson's stellar performance, as he gained 193 receiving yards in the contest—the most yards by any receiver in Week 2.
As long as Jackson remains on the field for the Eagles, this offense will continue to keep defenses off-balance while racking up some impressive yardage and points scored each week.
All screen shots courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.