By Chris Murray
For the NFC' Easter
Throughout the Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb era in Philadelphia, the biggest complaint in Philadelphia is the lack of a game-breaker at the wide receiver position. With the exception of the 2004 season when the Eagles had volatile wideout Terrell Owen, the Eagles haven't had a game-breaking wide receiver. The Birds went to the Super Bowl that season with Owens as their starting receiver.
So far in the 2009 season all the noise about McNabb not having that big-time go-to receiver has been muted by the performance of players like second-year wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who has become one of the most dangerous weapons in the Birds offense.
Statistically, none of the Eagles receivers are in the top 10 among the NFL's best, but McNabb does have receivers who are capable of making that game-breaking play at anytime.
After an outstanding rookie season in 2008, Jackson is following it up with a sophomore season that teams have to account for him as a force in the Eagles passing game. This season, Jackson, who was last week named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week , has caught 24 passes for 501 yards for four touchdowns and is averaging 20.1 yards per catch—the second highest in the league for receivers with 20 or more receptions. All four of his touchdown receptions have been more than 50 yards.
In fact, all of Jackson's touchdowns-whether they are punt returns or on runs from scrimmage like his 67-yard touchdown on an end-around against the Washington Redskins—have been beyond 50 yards.
In the Birds 40-17 shellacking of the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, Jackson caught three passes for 78 yards including a 64-yard touchdown pass from McNabb late in the second quarter.
“I am just being put in some great positions to go out there and get long touchdowns. Whatever it is we have to do to make it work, that is what we are going to do,” Jackson said after Sunday's win over New York.
But Jackson is not the only Eagles wide receiver. With the injury to Kevin Curtis, rookie Jeremy Maclin is starting to get some looks from McNabb. Against the Giants, Maclin caught four passes for 47 yards and a touchdown. McNabb said he is starting to become more comfortable with the rookie out of Missouri.
“I am. You know, we worked a little bit in the off season. In the first game he didn't play much while I was in there, while I was healthy,” McNabb said. “And then you know from Tampa on, we've been able to work together, and (WR) DeSean (Jackson) as well, just working on our timing. We've had some ups and downs, but we are also kind of comfortable of what we're seeing and being on the same page.”
The problem with past Eagles teams, with the exception of 2004, is that they had players who were decent possesion receivers that might make a big play every now and then. So far in his brief time with the Eagles, Jackson has consistenly displayed an ability to be a deep threat in the Eagles offense.
In last year's NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals, Jackson caught six passes for 92 yards including a big 62-yard touchdown pass from McNabb that the Eagles their only lead in the game before the Cardinals eventually won it.
With Jackson's speed, the Eagles can use him in a variety of situations from the Wildcat formation to handing the ball off to him on end arounds. As one of the league's most dangerous punt returners, Jackson has managed to put some fear in the heart of opposing special teams coach as well. Jackson likes how the team is versatility as a football player.
“The biggest thing I can say is they put me in great positions to expose the defenses,” Jackson said. “Anytime you have the coaches and the other 10 players helping you and doing everything they can to go out their and have success. Just keep putting it together.”
The only question about a small receiver like Jackson, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, is his durability. Last season, Jackson played in all 16 regular season games and three playoff games. He caught 62 passes for 912 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson has yet to be kept out of a game because of an injury.
Jackson's ability to stretch defenses makes it possible for possesion receivers like Jason Avant and tight end Brent Celek, who leads the team in receptions, to work the middle of the field on third down situations to keep the chains moving.
While it still remains to be seen if Jackson can be as good as Owens was in 2004 on a more consistent basis, but at the rate he's going right he may not be that far from being at that level.