McMullen: Jeffery’s Absence is Weighing Heavily on the Eagles Offense
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - With just 43 yards from the wideouts against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1 the Eagles could sure use Alshon Jeffery in Tampa this weekend.
The veteran wideout, however, has been ruled out as expected even though he returned to the practice for the first time this week since offseason shoulder surgery.
Much like Carson Wentz, Jeffery has not been cleared for contact just yet so his return is likely a still a few weeks away.
"He's looked good. He's looked really well, just the individual stuff that he's doing," coach Doug Pederson said before practice Friday. "He's not cleared for anything physically yet from a contact standpoint, but he's working the individual drills and throwing on the side still. He's doing some good things there. We'll evaluate him again next week."
Jeffery originally suffered his rotator-cuff injury during training camp last August and played through it, capping his inaugural season in Philadelphia with three touchdowns in the playoffs, including a 34-yard score in Super Bowl LII.
"If I had to do it over again, I’d do the same thing," Jeffery said after practice Friday when asked about his decision to play through the injury.
Friday was the first time Jeffery had gone on record with the media in Philadelphia since the Super Bowl but he did tell SI's Jenny Vrentas after the Falcons game that he was "weeks away from a return."
Nothing was cleared up Friday and the WR1 said he's "not a doctor," so he couldn't say what needs to happen to be cleared. His rehab has included catching the football more than 100 times a day and Jeffery wouldn't speculate where his strength is right now, a key part of the rangy 6-foot-3, 220-pounder's skill set.
"I guess we'll see when I can come back out there," Jeffery joked.
With Nelson Agholor, Mike Wallace and DeAndre Carter getting most of the reps at receiver against Atlanta, the Eagles offense struggled mightily while trying to get the ball outside the numbers against a Cover-3 heavy defense.
The goal of Dan Quinn's scheme is to make you do things the hard way. In fact, if you're looking to describe a Cover-3 philosophy to the casual fan it might tipping your cap to the offense that can navigate 80 yards in 15 plays without any drive-killing mistakes.
The Falcons generally want to keep everything in front of them and did so brilliantly in their Week 1 game against the Philadelphia offense with the longest play of the night being a 21-yard run by Corey Clement.
Through the air Atlanta was even stingier, allowing an 18-yard gain over the middle to Zach Ertz and a 15-yarder of the "Philly Philly" play to Nick Foles.
In other words, the longest catch by a receiver against Atlanta was by the QB and the longest pass to a receiver was by Agholor.
The Eagles can correctly point to the scoreboard and assert that an 18-12 victory is the only statistic that matters. That said, everyone also understands winning with that kind of production on a consistent basis is simply not tenable.
The Philadelphia offense needs some "X Plays" and it needs them now and perhaps Tampa Bay, with a banged-up secondary down two of its top three cornerbacks in Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves, is the tonic the Eagles need.
"I look at it sometimes a little bit differently," Pederson said. "They could be banged up on the back end, but they're pretty good up front. If they're putting pressure on your quarterback, it's hard to get the ball down the field."
Foles wasn't under terrible pressure against the Falcons, however, and the Eagles' offensive line remains one of the true strengths of the team so the issues land squarely on the QB and the Jeffery-less receiving corps.
"We’ll jell," WR Mike Wallace said earlier this week.
Pederson, meanwhile, seems to understand that without Carson Wentz and Jeffery, his offensive line is going to have to carry the water.
"We have got to do our job offensively," Pederson admitted. "I've got to do a better job of calling plays, obviously, put our team in situations to shoot the ball down the field, and then just our execution. It starts up front. Our guys know that. We talk about protection not only in the pass game, but also run blocking. They take a lot of pride in that.
"We'll see what happens."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen