One of the questions floating around Redskins Park this week is how the Redskins are going to move the ball with DeSean Jackson sidelined with a hamstring injury. Who will replace Jackson? How will they get any offense going without a receiver who can stretch the field?
The short answers are that nobody can take Jackson’s place and the offense will have to figure out how to move the chains the same way the vast majority of the teams in the league do. Very few NFL teams have a receiver with Jackson’s sheer speed and ability to run under almost anything a quarterback throws up there.
The Redskins didn’t have one in 2013. Jackson was an Eagle that year. The Redskins relied on Pierre Garçon to move the football through the air. Quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins targeted Garçon a league leading 181 times. They attempted a combined 611 passes so nearly one in every three throws was in Garçon’s direction.
And the receiver came through with 113 receptions, a total that both led the league and set a team record for catches in a single season. The Redskins did not have a top-notch offense doing things this way but they did rank ninth in total yards and the Garçon-centric passing attack kept defenses honest enough to for the team to rank fifth in rushing yards. It was a miserable 3-13 seasons but a shaky defense, awful special teams, and general team dysfunction contributed more to the mess than the offense did.
There is no reason why this plan can’t work again during Jackson’s temporary absence. With Jackson missing all but a few snaps of the Dolphins game, Garçon was targeted eight times, catching six. Four catches were good for first downs and a fifth reception that should have resulted in a first down was nullified by a highly questionable offensive pass interference penalty.
During the offseason Scot McCloughan and Jay Gruden talked a lot about wanting to transform the Redskins into a team known for its toughness. You can check that box next to Garçon’s name.
“You preach tough football players and when your wide receiver is one of the toughest players on your football team, it sends a good signal to everybody,” said Gruden. “He’s a guy that’ll block. He’s a guy that’ll go over-the-middle, be fearless and run after the catch. Every part of Pierre’s game is what you’re looking for in a wide receiver — his toughness, his willingness to do the little things to make the team better.”
The Redskins will send Jamison Crowder and perhaps Rashad Ross on some deep patterns against the Rams tomorrow and for as long as Jackson is sidelined. But it is doubtful that many big plays will happen as a result. If the Redskins are going to move the ball against St. Louis they will do it running the ball (Seattle rushed for 125 yards against them) with Garçon providing blocking on the edge and by targeting Garçon at least a dozen times passing.
Gruden is on board with such a plan.
“I’m all about trying to get him involved in this offense, no question about it,” he said. “You’d love to run the ball, run the ball, but it’s also important to get him involved because he is a game changer if we can get him the quality touches like we did last year.”
Certainly a game plan like this would work better with someone like Jackson in the mix. The ability to score from long distance rather than needing to put together an extended drive certainly helps. But the Redskins will have to play with the hand they were dealt and there is no reason why it can’t be effective given that it has worked in the past.