Speed tends to be the first thing that goes for aging athletes. DeSean Jackson isn’t most aging athletes, though. At 32 years old, he’s still racing past corners and making life difficult for safeties. That speed was on full display in the Eagles’ opener against Washington and bodes well for Philadelphia’s offense this season.
Jackson caught eight passes for 154 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Eagles’ 32-27 victory. He scored his 30th career touchdown of at least 50 yards for second place all-time, passing Randy Moss and with only Jerry Rice ahead of him. The NFL’s Next Gen Stats also clocked him at 21.4 mph at his fastest on Sunday, behind only to Malcolm Butler and Saquon Barkley.
Jackson eclipsed 900 receiving yards in five of his six first seasons, all with the Eagles, but he’s only done it twice again since. Although he didn’t made it past 800 yards in either of his past two seasons with Tampa Bay, that could change this year in his return to Philadelphia. And the Eagles have definitely been missing a field-stretching player like Jackson ever since he left the team.
It was more than a one-off performance from Jackson, however. He’s now an integral part of the offense and is expected to be a favored target of Carson Wentz going forward. Jackson’s speed completely changes the way defenses cover the Eagles.
Below, we take a look at some of Jackson’s best plays from Week 1 and the ways he trashed the Washington defense.
Play No. 1: He can score on pure speed
Not only is it a great play by Jackson, it’s a fantastic throw by a quarterback who already looks comfortable with him.
That’s a 51-yard touchdown.
If he can guarantee that Jackson only has one defender to beat, Wentz is going to make a throw like this every single time. Jackson isn’t necessarily “open” when Wentz throws it, but he knows Jackson’s speed will create the needed separation. Wentz puts it just out of reach of the defender, who is scrambling to stay with Jackson.
That’s the kill shot for Jackson — if he can weave through coverage and it comes down to a sprint, he’s going to win. And once that happens, defenses tend to adjust and give more cushion, which allows for more action underneath. Jackson isn’t just quick in a dead sprint, though. He also has some of the smoothest cuts out there.
Play No. 2: Fooling the safety = Jackson TD
This time, the big play (and again, a good throw from Wentz) goes for 53 yards, a couple yards better than his first.
This play is clearly designed to do one thing: give Jackson a bunch of room. On his side of the field, the Eagles run a deep post with the receiver to Jackson’s left and a short out with the receiver to his right. That pulls down one corner, and the second is likely expecting some safety help over the top.
Unfortunately for Washington, that safety help followed the post, which itself looked like it could have gone for a touchdown down the left sideline, to be frank. By the time the safety realizes that Jackson has, oh, 8-9 yards of separation from his man, it’s over.
Jackson has several yards of buffer in all directions when the ball is approaching, and that’s an easy touchdown for him.
Play No. 3: The speed opens up shorter plays, too
Those big plays pushed the defense back and then allowed Jackson to make this crucial third-down catch on an Eagles touchdown drive.
Look at that cushion! This isn’t just Jackson finding a soft spot in the zone, either. There’s a safety out of picture expecting Jackson to continue streaking — he’s already caught 51- and 53-yard touchdowns at this point — while the corner tries to undercut a catch-and-run.
But Jackson has so much room to work with that he makes an effortless cut outside and picks up a cool 19 yards.
These weren’t the only positive plays Jackson had on the day. On most of his game-high eight catches he had multiple yards of separation, whether from him sprinting past guys or from an overabundance of caution from the defensive backs.
Wentz also completed passes to seven other players, including five passes each to Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery, both of whom benefit from Jackson’s speed. Jackson probably isn’t going to go for 150 yards every week, but he’s already Wentz’s top target in his first season back in Philadelphia since 2013. Even at 32, this surely won’t be the last time Jackson annihilates some defensive backfields.