Out since the first quarter of the first game with a hamstring injury, Desean Jackson returned to the Redskins lineup on Sunday in Foxborough. While he made no noticeable impact on the offense, it was an important first step for Jackson and Washington.
The thing is, it might be only a temporary infusion of life into the offense.
Jackson played 49 snaps according to NFL GSIS, the league’s official statistical service or 84% of the offensive plays, which is better than I thought he would be at.
The playmaking receiver was targeted six times on Sunday which he turned into three catches for 15 yards. Known as a deep ball threat, his longest reception went for nine yards. Not exactly the kind of impact Jackson wanted, the Redskins were hoping for and fans expected. I was figuring he would make a bigger impact in at least one instance, but it never really came close.
A part of the reason? Jackson played only one full series this season way back in the opener against Miami. He was hurt on a deep go-route on the second possession. SInce then, no game action, though he suffered a setback leading up to the Jets loss a few weeks back. Because of another injury early in training camp, Jackson did not play at all in the preseason.
Another issue reared it's ugly head in some way on Monday. There are some that feel (myself included) Jackson would rather be making rap albums and reality shows, rather than being with his team at certain times of the year. Jackson was not at a large part of the Redskins on-field voluntary organized team activities.
What does all that mean? In essence, it meant that Jackson had not played an entire football game since last December 28th in the final regular season game of 2014 against the Cowboys.
Redskins’ coaches were rightfully concerned that Jackson could pop his hamstring again on Sunday if the Redskins aired it out. It was a smart call. As Jay Gruden has said many times, Jackson is really not a weapon for the Redskins unless he’s 100% and hamstrings are a really difficult injury to protect.
Could the Redskins have targeted Jackson earlier on? Yes. Could they have forced him into the game plan with some quick bubbles and plays designed to not force him to gas it? Yes. It would have also helped if the Redskins actually had the ball or if one of Jackson’s teammates decided to actually catch the football.
Still, in typical Jackson fashion, he answered questions from a reporter in the locker room in a way that made it pretty obvious to see his frustration.
Maybe Jackson was simply telling the truth, maybe he was voicing a complaint when he told NBC-Washington that he doesn’t call the plays or throw the football. Jackson also mentioned that he didn’t drop any passes.
That led to Jay Gruden in mostly typical Gruden-ese to try and diffuse any smoke from a small fire.
"Well, he's not the one calling the plays and he's not the one throwing the ball to himself, so he is correct with his comment,” Gruden sarcastically joked with reporters at Redskins Park on Monday.
At that point, Gruden pointed out the obvious and an almost completely factual statement which rang true with me and hopefully others.
“We respect DeSean a lot and what he brings to this football team, but the problem is DeSean wasn't here in OTAs and he missed a lot of training camp and he missed the first eight games,” Gruden said.
His greater overall point was that it was almost impossible to “have cohesiveness with the quarterback coming right out of the shoot.”
So Jackson, who looked labored at times on Sunday, made it through his first game for the most part reasonably healthy and now the question is this: When will the Redskins get the real DeSean?
The answer is maybe never: At least in a Redskins uniform.
Nobody would deny his game-changing ability. Redskins coaches publicly and privately talk about his ability to track and catch a ball at its highest point for a receiver with less than ideal height.
That’s all great. Can he get back to that type of guy? Nobody knows for sure because of the nagging hamstring concerns and other issues.
If he doesn’t (and even if he does), the next eight games might be the final eight games that Jackson is in a Redskins uniform.
Jackson is due to count $9.25 million dollars under the Redskins 2016 salary cap and while they very likely can absorb that contract, the question is do they want to?
It would cost Scot McCloughan and Washington $2.5 million in dead money (against the cap) to part with Jackson because his 2016 contract is not guaranteed like his 2015 salary was..
Jackson does not fit the mold of what McCloughan ideally wants in a body type. He’s small-ish and not fearless over the middle like Jamison Crowder is. Jackson isn’t a good blocker and doesn’t exactly match up with the strong suit of the current Redskins quarterback, Kirk Cousins.
Jackson can do two things well. He can run deep and he can take a quick hitter and make somebody miss. That’s it. He didn’t make anybody on the offense better in 2014. Pierre Garcon dropped off significantly. Jordan Reed regressed from his rookie year and Andre Roberts has never exactly panned out.
I can’t blame Jackson for that, but the fact of the matter is this: Last year, the Redskins tried to force the ball to Jackson. When it worked, it was brilliant. When it didn’t, it was ugly.
If the Redskins try and start forcing this hand, it’s going to hurt the balance of the offense as a whole.
Washington only scored ten points Sunday but had a chance for and probably should have had at least seven additional points, if not more.
The drops were a major problem, of course. They had at least seven and you could reasonably count another one or two to add to the mix.
While the Redskins shot themselves in the foot, the distribution balance was ideal. Crowder and Garcon each had eight targets. Jordan Reed had seven. Jackson was next with his six and then Chris Thompson, Andre Roberts, Matt Jones and Derek Carrier each had a few targets.
That’s what the west coast offense is designed to do. The premise is to get rid of the ball quickly and to get everybody involved. It’s not meant for one player to get 12-14 targets.
If that’s what Jackson wanted on Sunday, and wants moving forward – he’s going to be frustrated. He’ll also continue to pave the way for his exit out of Washington.
This doesn’t mean you don’t take a couple of shots against a bad Saints secondary. I know that and Jay Gruden knows that.
Hopefully next week we'll see more balls flying his way and he can go get ‘em."
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