PHILADELPHIA – Maybe it’s the new coach and his new offense, but it’s more likely DeSean Jackson’s new commitment to his profession. Jackson said he worked harder this offseason than at any other time in his NFL career and it’s probably not a coincidence that he’s headed for the best season of his career.
Jackson lit up the NFL in his first three seasons and even though the last two were pretty good, there had been a steady decline in production, from a career high in receptions (62), receiving yards (1,156) and touchdowns (nine) in 2009 to last year, when he had career lows in receptions (45), yards (700) and TDs (two).
Now, as the Eagles prepare for Sunday’s NFC East showdown with the Dallas Cowboys, Jackson is riding high again. He’s caught 34 passes so far, which is 15th in the NFL, but he’s second in the league in receiving yards with 589, and that leads all NFL wide receivers – tight end Jimmy Graham of New Orleans leads the way with 593 yards.
Over 16 games, that averages out to 91 receptions and 1,570 yards and the latter statistic would break the Eagles’ single-season record of 1,409 yards set by wide receiver Mike Quick in 1983.
“This was a big offseason for me,’’ Jackson said. “I tried to put on weight and I hit the weights a little more, so I came in for the first time above weight and I feel strong.
“I’m just challenging myself. At the same time, Chip came in with a great system for me to be successful in – and not just me, but [LeSean] McCoy and [Mike] Vick and [Nick] Foles and [Brent] Celek and others. We’re able to go out there and challenge other teams and challenge ourselves, as well.’’
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Jackson’s impressive season is the impact he’s had in the red zone – he came into this season with just four red zone touchdowns and he has two already this season, one each in the last two games.
Jackson said the reason for that improvement is simple – he’s finally on the field when the Eagles get close to the goal line. Under former coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, the Eagles would use bigger receivers in the end zone, including sets that called for multiple tight ends. And, as Jackson pointed out this week, you can’t catch the ball if you’re standing on the sideline.
“I’ve been getting the opportunity to create mismatches and things like that,’’ Jackson said of his recent success in the red zone. “I think Chip does a great job putting me in a position to be successful in the red zone. And at the end of the day, as a wide receiver, you like to get chances down there. I just kept working at it and I figured that sooner or later I’d get those opportunities.’’
Kelly said he hasn’t done anything special with Jackson in the red zone other than leaving him on the field.
“I haven’t looked at whatever they did with him in the past,’’ Kelly said. “I mean, we don’t change our receivers when we get down inside [the 20-yard line] and he’s a real good route runner and he’s a tough match up down there.’’
The Eagles will need all Jackson can give them on Sunday when they play the Cowboys, who have scored more points (183) than any team in the NFL. And Jackson had perhaps the best game of his career against the Cowboys in 2010, when he racked up 210 receiving yards on just four catches, including a 91-yard touchdown, in the Eagles’ 30-27 victory. The 210 yards was the third most in Eagles history, behind Hall-of-Famer Tommy McDonald (237 yards vs. the New York Giants in 1961) and Kevin Curtis (221 vs. Detroit in 2007).
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.