ASHBURN, Va., -- The Washington Redskins haven’t received as much production from DeSean Jackson this season. So the fact that he’s listed as doubtful vs. Minnesota shouldn’t be an issue, right? Wrong. But it’s also not as if the Redskins can’t survive without him for one game, either. Which leads to this week’s mailbag.
@john_keim How will the passing game be affected w/o Desean Jackson. Does his presence (tho underutilized) truly open up everything else?— Ron Burgundy & Gold (@RBG_DMC73) November 11, 2016
John Keim: I think they’ll be fine without Jackson. But I’ll start with this: The Redskins know if Jackson plays and gets banged up again, he could be out longer than a week. He’s been dealing with multiple issues for a while -- the sort of thing that happens to a smaller receiver as he nears 30 years old.
For those who want Jackson to have more catches, this is the fear: More chance for injuries. Of course, I also know the real desire isn’t how many receptions he has -- he’s being targeted the same as in the past two years -- but where they come. If he catches four passes in a game, but one is a deep ball? All good. He makes his impact.
The problem is, defenses have absolutely been limiting what the Redskins can do down the field with Jackson, whether through double coverage or bracketing him. There were occasional chances (one that led to a 50-yard pass interference penalty; one or two others that were missed or not seen). Still, that opens up targets for others -- and given the Redskins’ skill-position talent, that’s not bad at all. Jamison Crowder flourishes underneath because he has become an excellent slot receiver, but also because defenses focus extra attention elsewhere.
Jackson’s absence also means more time for Ryan Grant, a practice all-star who has yet to translate that into games. He does not possess deep speed and has never been a threat after the catch and stumbles too often. Perhaps Rashad Ross can scare a defense deep; without Jackson, ironically, the Redskins might have more chances to go downfield in favorable coverages. (Jackson scares teams on multiple routes -- deep crossers, for example; it’s also not just about speed as Jackson tracks the ball very well. Speed alone does not make you dangerous, but it certainly helps.)
But also know this: The Vikings allow only 10.73 yards per reception to receivers on the outside -- good for second lowest in the NFL. Minnesota is tied for first in the NFL with only five receptions of 30 yards or more allowed (tied with, believe it or not, the Redskins). The Vikings have allowed the third fewest receptions by slot receivers (38).
The Vikings apply good pressure -- beware end Everson Griffen and tackle Linval Joseph -- and have a strong secondary to force teams out of deep throws. They will send a variety of blitzes and use stunts to disrupt the pocket. It often works. But the Redskins also are confident in their group, even if one important piece is missing.
And here’s the rub: it’s their tight ends who will do the damage Sunday. The Vikings have allowed a combined 18 passes to tight ends the last three games. They will struggle to defend both Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, especially when they’re on the field at the same time. Davis is not getting open because of Reed’s presence, it’s because he can still run.
There’s also a chance Derek Carrier will be active. If he gets through Friday OK then the odds of him being there Sunday increase a lot. He can line up in the backfield a la Niles Paul. He’s not nearly the same blocker as Paul, but he can catch and run.
The whole point of this is to say the Redskins remain in good position to attack Minnesota’s defense. It will not be easy; despite the three-game skid this defense remains a strong group that is receiving no help from its offense. Running the ball will be tough, too. And moving the ball would have been tough even with Jackson. It gets tougher without him, but certainly not impossible.
But if you’re a quarterback wanting to convince others you can win with adversity, here’s your chance. Kirk Cousins and the Redskins offense moved the ball minus Reed for two games; they can survive the loss of Jackson for one. As long as they improve in the red zone, that is.