By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—When the Eagles released DeSean Jackson last season, the big concern was could the Birds replace Jackson’s production (82 receptions, 1,332 yards, and nine TDs) and his ability to stretch the field?
So far, the Eagles are 3-0 and the passing game, even with the slow starts, really hasn’t missed a beat without the speedy Jackson, now playing for Washington. The Birds air game ranks second in the NFL.
To be honest, I don’t think the Eagles really miss Jackson as good as he was last season. Chip Kelly’s offense gives everybody a chance to contribute and has the defense having to pick their poison.
“It’s all by design in terms of how people decided to defend us and obviously they packed the front and tried to take away (LeSean) McCoy and (Washington) did real good job of that, hats off to them,” Kelly said. “But if you’re going to do that, then our wideouts have to step up and play and I thought all those guys really did a good job of that (Sunday).”
Quarterback Nick Foles is averaging 326 yards passing per game and has six touchdown passes. Three of those touchdowns have gone to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The former Missouri star leads the team in receptions (16), touchdowns (3) and yards per catch (18.5).
Though he’s not as fast as Jackson, Maclin is a more versatile wideout. He is catching passes running across the middle, on screen passes and on the deep ball. He has scored touchdowns in all three games. By the way, Maclin is no slowpoke and he does run 4.4 40-yard dash.
“Mac is doing a great job every time he’s out there,” Foles said.
In Sunday’s win over Washington, Maclin caught eight passes for 154 yards and one touchdown. He would have had two if not for an illegal block in the back by center Jason Kelce on a screen pass. Kelly said he’s not surprised by Maclin’s performance.
“He’s a big time receiver and that’s what we knew all along,” Kelly said. “We feel like we’re talented at the wide out spot.”
And so far, Kelly is not wrong about the talent the Eagles have at the wide receiver position.
Rookie Jordan Matthews had a breakout performance against Washington. He caught eight passes for 59 yards and two touchdowns. Both scores came inside the red zone thanks to his tall 6-3 frame.
Having tall wide receivers like Matthews and Riley Cooper to maneuver the red zone is something the Birds haven’t had in quite some time.
For the first two weeks of the season, the game-breaker in the Eagles’ offense has been Darren Sproles. If it wasn’t for his explosive plays in both running game, the passing game and on special teams, the Birds might be 1-2 instead of 3-0.
Washington was well aware of both Sproles and LeSean McCoy managed to keep them under wraps. In fact, Washington’s defense forced a fumble from Sproles. The problem was they couldn’t stop the rest of the Eagles offense.
All of these things bring us back to Foles, who put on a gutsy performance against Washington. After surviving some tough starts, the former Arizona star has found a way to put the Eagles in the win column.
Foles’ best moment in the season thus far came in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over Washington. With 10:07 left in the game, Foles, who leads the NFL in passing yardage, threw a pass that was ruled an interception by Washington cornerback Bashaud Breeland.
As Foles moved to forward to anticipate a run by Breeland, he took a hard hit from Washington defensive lineman Chris Baker and wound up on the ground writhing in pain. The hard block on Foles caused a huge melee along the sideline and resulted in the ejection of Baker and Eagles offensive tackle Jason Peters.
Meanwhile, the interception was overturned and Foles recovered to lead the Eagles on an eight play, 76-yard drive that would culminate in a 27-yard touchdown pass to Maclin that put the Eagles ahead for good.
What makes Foles play even more remarkable is that he’s had to play behind a patchwork offensive line with injuries to Evan Mathis, Allen Barbre and Kelce to go along with the suspension of second-year starter Lane Johnson.
“I said it before about him and I knew it because when I played against him in college, he’s going to stand in there, he’s a tough sucker. He got hit a lot (Sunday),” Kelly said.