Jason Reid: Redskins acquisition of DeSean Jackson should worry opposing defenses

The Post Sports Live crew discusses how DeSean Jackson could fit into the Redskins offense. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)
Jason Reid
Columnist April 2

New Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson probably won’t score highlight-worthy touchdowns every game. And Redskins coaches won’t look to the electrifying player to shoulder most of the load on offense. But they will expect Jackson to help the Redskins achieve something they haven’t had in years: balance in the passing game.

By agreeing to terms with the Pro Bowler late Tuesday night, the Redskins put themselves in position to have many of their wide receivers thrive. Jackson’s presence will provide more options for Coach Jay Gruden and fast-rising offensive coordinator Sean McVay, free Pierre Garcon to maneuver on mid-range routes and enable quarterback Robert Griffin III to finally exhale.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

The addition of Jackson gives the Redskins the top-notch receiving corps for which Griffin has long lobbied. For the Redskins and their fans, the fun part will be watching it all come together.

Garcon’s work immediately becomes easier. Few Redskins players were as mentally drained as Garcon after last season’s 3-13 debacle. The losing was bad enough, and Garcon also was frustrated because he rarely had the opportunity to help the Redskins as much as he envisioned, people in the organization say. The problem? Double coverage.

There’s no nice way to put this: Garcon was the only Redskins wide receiver who concerned opponents. He often was covered by the cornerback opposite him and a safety. On deep routes, Garcon almost always was “bracketed.” Even if Garcon was not completely double-teamed, a safety usually would move toward Garcon’s side of the field.

The Post Sports Live crew assesses the Redskins signings after the first week of free agency. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

I know what you’re thinking: If Garcon received so much attention, other receivers should have been open. In theory, that’s correct. Unfortunately for the Redskins, it didn’t work out that way.

Better suited for much smaller roles than they had in the offense, Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan failed to gain Griffin’s trust because they didn’t get open quickly enough. The NFL’s best wideouts are adept at winning individual battles against cornerbacks off the line. The speed of the pass rush, the distance of receivers’ routes, the timing between the quarterback and receivers — a whole lot goes into completing even the shortest passing play.

If a quarterback lacks confidence that a receiver can beat coverage in a timely fashion, he’ll look for other options. Too often, Griffin didn’t see any he liked.

Productive for a long time, Santana Moss, who turns 35 in June, was great in the locker room last season, but not so much on the field. Seeking anything to create mismatches in the secondary in an effort to open space for Garcon, Griffin pushed coaches to expand the role of the speedy Aldrick Robinson. Nothing really worked, though, which was clear from the stats. Garcon finished with 113 receptions. Among wideouts, Moss was second with 42.

Enter Jackson. At 27, the six-year veteran is in the prime of his career and has been among the NFL’s top scare-the-defense deep threats from the moment he entered the league. Undoubtedly, Gruden and McVay will devise creative ways to use Jackson, who had his best season — 82 catches, 1,332 yards (a 16.2-yard average) and nine touchdowns — for the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles last fall. Everything they do will be based on Jackson’s speed and the threat of it.

Robinson is fast. Jackson possess a combination of speed (he covers 40 yards in 4.35 seconds), quickness and playmaking ability that makes him unique. It’s why he has been able to amass 356 receptions, 6,117 yards (with an eye-opening 17.2-yard average) and 32 touchdowns in his career despite being listed at only 175 pounds.

Look for Gruden and McVay to utilize Jackson on screen passes, which would put blockers in front of Jackson, whose shiftiness in crowds also is among his strengths. Having Jackson run deep routes is as big a no-brainer as it was for the Redskins to sign Jackson after he was cut by the Eagles.

Few wideouts are as proficient at beating double coverage on deep passes by using both speed and moves. I’m sure many Redskins fans remember Jackson’s 88-yard touchdown reception from Michael Vick on the first play from scrimmage during the Eagles’ 59-28 blowout victory at FedEx Field in 2010. It’s hard to forget.

And even if Jackson doesn’t produce a home-run play, his mere presence will help Garcon because of the attention he will receive from the defense. Defenses can’t double-team everybody. Garcon should face more single coverage in the Redskins’ first eight games next season than he did in his first two seasons with the team.

Newcomer Andre Roberts and pass-catching tight end Jordan Reed also should benefit from what Jackson does so well.

In many formations, the Redskins are expected to use Roberts in the slot. Initially, I didn’t think much of the Redskins’ decision to sign Roberts. He isn’t the kind of player capable of significantly lessening the load on Garcon. With Roberts working a lot against nickel cornerbacks, however, that could be a great matchup for the Redskins.

The Redskins haven’t addressed their long-standing need for a big receiver, some of their detractors would say. I disagree.

Reed runs routes so smoothly and finishes them so sharply, he’s essentially another highly effective wideout. Now that they have better tools with which to work on deep passing plays, Gruden and McVay plan to fully capitalize on what Reed is capable of doing in the middle of the field. And, of course, an improved passing game only helps running back Alfred Morris.

The Redskins need to improve at right tackle, there are questions at inside linebacker and their safeties won’t scare anyone. But they went from only having one productive wideout to potentially having one of the game’s top tandems and a much improved offense overall. There’s only one word for that: progress.

For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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