Eagles offense needs tweaked receiver mix

PHILADELPHIA

— One thing rookie Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly might want to consider in trying to open things up for running back LeSean McCoy and his offense in general heading toward their stretch run is an extra deep threat.

They already have that player under contract. His name is Damaris Johnson.

Johnson is the only other receiver on the active roster besides DeSean Jackson who is capable of stretching the field and commanding safety attention over the top. And as we saw in Sunday's 17-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, sometimes Jackson isn't even capable of or willing to do that.

Although Johnson would not have made a difference in Sunday's game because of how poorly Eagles quarterbacks Nick Foles and Matt Barkley played, he would have made it much more difficult for the Cowboys to run an extra safety up in the box on almost every play and slam the door shut on LeSean McCoy.

Then, in subsequent weeks, he could help void the blueprint for containing the Eagles that the Cowboys and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin might have created in the process.

McCoy was limited to 55 yards on 18 carries. His longest run was 10 yards. He often had nowhere to go because the secondary was pushing up, knowing there was nobody besides Jackson (again, only when he is interested) who can get behind any of their corners and safeties.

Kelly didn't necessarily see it that way.

"You've got to finish the blocks up front," Kelly said. "There are a lot of times where the numbers were right for us and we do have hat for a hat. We've got to finish it. There are other times when maybe the ball should have gone outside because of how we're blocking it and what the landmarks are, but the back cuts it inside. We've just got to get everybody on the same page.

"But again, schematically, it wasn't like we're trying to run the ball and they've got an extra guy and we just keep running them into the unblocked guy. We've got to finish blocks up front. We have to finish runs when we have the ball in our hands."

But suffice to say, never was the absence of Jeremy Maclin, who was lost for the year to a preseason ACL injury, felt more than on Sunday.

Yet they needn't have suffered so much.

Johnson, limited almost exclusively to special teams work so far, is available. And he already proved as a rookie playing a limited role last season that he's not chopped liver.

Johnson caught 19 passes for 256 yards last season. His total this year? One catch for eight yards.

Johnson was in for just two offensive snaps on Sunday, eight the week before and three the week before that.

In that same span, Jeff Maehl has played 47 snaps and caught a total of one pass for five yards. He did drop two balls on Sunday, however.

Maehl, who played for Kelly at the University of Oregon and was out of football last season, is not an incompetent receiver, but he's not running by anybody anytime soon. Johnson can and will, if he would just get a chance.

According to Kelly, that chance is not forthcoming. When he does get on the field, chances are that Jackson won't be there with him.

"That's really where Damaris is right now, playing behind DeSean," Kelly said. "There were times where DeSean was open and we just didn't get him the football, and there were other times he probably could have done a better job of getting open. Sometimes it's the quarterback, sometimes it's the receiver."

And sometimes it's not enough help being on the field for either one.

Johnson, with game-breaking speed, can provide the kind of vertical dimension that Maehl, Riley Cooper and Jason Avant cannot.

But Kelly, who is hesitant to employ small players in the first place, seemingly can only live with one — the 5-foot-10 Jackson or 5-8 Johnson — on the field at the same time.

The Cowboys proved with their scheme and their athletes that the time has come for Kelly to cancel this policy, or at least to experiment for awhile to see if Jackson and Johnson can work at the same time for a limited number of plays.

On a day when the basic inventor of the "Tampa 2" defense changed his pass coverage scheme to more of a KISS (keep it simple, stupid) format, the famed Kelly offense was stifled as never before.

No checkdowns, no disguises. No zones. Just zero in on one guy and stick him. Period.

"Teams will continue to do it until we beat it," wide receiver Jason Avant said. "And even if we gash them, I think they'll still do it. Because from a defensive coordinator's perspective, it's too hard to implement so many different checks. Because if we move fast and someone doesn't get the check, it's a touchdown.

"So I think even if we do beat it, it's still going to be man-to-man."

In the NFL, you beat man coverage and open up the running game with speed, not with Jeff Maehls.

nick.fierro@mcall.com

610-778-2243

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