DeSean Jackson suffered a shoulder sprain on Aug. 6 during training camp in Richmond. Since then, the playmaking wide receiver sat out all four preseason games. Now he's back and expected in the starting lineup for Sunday's regular season opener against Miami.
Now we'll see what the Washington Redskins figured out since last year. That's because some adjustment are needed entering Jackson's second season in Washington. If not addressed or fixed, there's a true chance there won't a be a third season.
The first is how to keep him healthy. As this offseason proved, there’s really no easy way to do this. Jackson is going to get banged up like he did several times last year. He missed most of the Jacksonville game and all of a brutal loss at home to the St. Louis Rams.
Keeping the dynamic speedster on the field isnt simply about having healthy bodies. Jackson’s ability to stretch the field and take the lid off a defense adds a different dynamic to the Redskins offense.
Perhaps just as important, Jackson can take a simple bubble screen for a long homerun like he did in the final regular season game of last year, a dreadful loss to the Dallas Cowboys at home.
The next issue is trying to figure out how to utilize Jackson while maximizing the skills of Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts, Ryan Grant, Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed.
Sure, Garcon led the Redskins in receptions last year with 68, but that was down from 113 catches in 2013.
Garcon wants more targets on third downs. The Redskins converted a miserable 31.5% last year. That was down from 40.4% in Garcon’s 113-catch season.
In 2013, Garcon was targeted a league-high 181 times while averaging 11.9 yards per reception rate. In 2014, Garcon dropped all the way down to 105 targets, according to NFL GSIS, but his average per reception only dipped slightly to 11.06 per catch.
Jackson was targeted 95 times for his 56 catches, which accounts for most of the drop for Garcon.
There’s no doubt that the Redskins have more talent with Jackson, but if Garcon and others don’t significantly improve their production in 2015 compared to last year, does it really help?
The one reason I thought Jackson was a great addition last year -- many might remember I disagreed with the move -- was that I figured that Jackson’s presence would make everyone on the offense better.
Instead, every individual regressed. Alfred Morris saw his average yards per attempt mark fall from 4.6 to 4.1. That shouldn’t happen.
How do the Redskins fix this? Obviously, more stability at quarterback will change some of the dynamics. The Redskins hope to have that with Kirk Cousins.
Washington should have a better run game this year with an improved offensive line, the addition of Matt Jones, and more of a commitment to the run attack.
Running the ball better should set up play-action and open up more windows in the intermediate and deep passing game. I think you know where Jackson’s skill-set fits and Garcon is better across the middle and on the intermediate routes that Cousins specializes in.
The other way the Redskins could get better is more 3 x 1 offensive sets with Jackson, Garcon and either Roberts or Crowder all lined up on the same side of the field with a tight end or other receiver alone on the opposite side. (I’m looking forward to analysis from our resident film expert Paul Conner on this).
That’s a lot of pressure on a defense.
Another way to free up both Jackson and Garcon more equitably involves running more stack and spray formations. Essentially Jackson and Garcon would line up next to each other or “stacked” in essentially an “I” look. They could spray routes or use Jackson's elite quickness underneath zones to clear out space for Garcon.
For the Redskins to have offensive success this season, this is how it has to be for Jackson and Garcon. If that happens, they could be a hell of a tag-team this season, which in turn might have general manager Scot McCloughan advocating to keep both next year.
Right now, it’s likely that one or the other will be gone because of their respective salaries.
The time is now. It’s boom-or-bust for Jackson and the rest of his crew. This could be their last dance together.