DeSean Jackson spent most of Sunday's game against the Buccaneers running routes against one of the best cornerbacks in the game. The Eagles wide receiver did some damage against Darrelle Revis, but his biggest catch -- a 36-yard touchdown -- came when he lined up in the slot and went over the top of Tampa's zone defense.
As the Eagles prepare to face the Cowboys, one of the questions of note this week has been how Dallas defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin plans to defend the Birds passing game and, specifically, how he plans to employ his best cornerback, Brandon Carr.
"He does a really good job of mixing things up," Chip Kelly said of Kiffin. "They play a good amount of man, man‑free and they mix in some Cover 2 in there and play a lot of three deep, four under."
Kiffin, of course, is famous for his "Tampa 2" zone, but after watching the Cowboys' last three games, and mostly how Carr was used, the coordinator does like to mix up his coverages. But I'm not sure Kiffin will do anything special to stop Jackson, other than have the 27-year-old Carr follow Jackson around.
DALLAS VS. THE BRONCOS:
With Morris Claiborne struggling in his second season, Carr has clearly become the Dallas cornerback quarterbacks avoid throwing at. Carr is very good, but he isn't a shut-down guy. He spent much of the Denver game opposite Demaryius Thomas, sometimes following the receiver away from his normal left side. Here the Broncos stacked Thomas and Wes Welker in the slot. Carr played off, but he had Thomas in man defense when he broke off into his route.
Here's Carr on the right side, up at the line, opposite Welker, who motioned toward Thomas before the snap. The receivers criss-crossed each other, but Carr was in zone and stayed with Thomas when he entered his area. Carr had good coverage on Thomas and Peyton Manning threw elsewhere. Manning did target Thomas five times when Carr was on him, connecting for four passes for 52 yards. Those were numbers Kiffin was likely pleased with.
But tight end Julius Thomas torched the Cowboys. Carr didn't guard him often, but the Broncos turned this matchup on the outside into a disadvantage for the Cowboys when Thomas ran a quick slant. Carr was late and Thomas muscled his way into the end zone.
The Cowboys likely didn't have Carr exclusively tail Demaryius Thomas because the Broncos have too many other weapons to expend one defender on one receiver. In the above panel, Carr was on Welker near the goal line.
DALLAS AT THE CHARGERS:
A week earlier, Carr stayed on the left almost the entire game, which meant he often saw Vincent Brown. The Chargers receiver caught only one pass for 19 yards with Carr covering him.
But Carr was also pitted against receiver Keenan Allen, tight end Antonio Gates and in this example running back Ryan Mathews. San Diego quarterback Phillips Rivers never targeted Carr in those instances.
DALLAS VS. THE REDSKINS:
But Kiffin used Carr differently Sunday against the Redskins. Carr was assigned Pierre Garcon, Washington's top receiver, and he spent a great deal of the game following him and playing man-to-man. Garcon has clearly been Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III's top target, much as Jackson has been for Eagles quarterbacks. There isn't a close second, which was probably why Kiffin singled up his best guy on Garcon, and why it is possible he'll do the same with Jackson on Sunday.
The Redskins did a fairly good job of freeing Garcon up early as they did in the above panel with a 9-yard screen pass. The Eagles certainly have plenty of bubble screens in their arsenal, although when the Chiefs and Broncos defenses went man with a single high safety, it mostly took that play away.
Whenever it was Carr on Garcon straight up, though, it was usually Shut Down City. Griffin threw at Carr ten times and he completed only two passes for 29 yards. Here Garcon tried to run a little hitch, but Carr blanketed him and when the receiver worked to the sideline, Griffin was forced to throw high and wide.
Carr wasn't only in man. Here he's in zone and the Redskins ran Garcon away from him with a short crossing route. Griffin hit him underneath and he picked up 15 yards. Washington liked the play so much, they went back to it a play later against the same defense and gained nine yards. But that was about as good as it got for Garcon.
A few plays later, Carr pressed Garcon at the line and the receiver ran a skinny post. But the cornerback batted the pass away.
In the third quarter, pretty much the same thing -- Garcon ran a curl route and Carr knocked another throw away.
Carr even followed Garcon into the slot. The Eagles were able to shake Revis off Jackson when they lined him in the slot, as they did on his long touchdown. But there's no reason to think Carr won't stay on Jackson when he moves inside. Garcon route a flag route on this play and had Carr by a step. But Griffin overthrew him.
As good as Garcon is, he's not quite in Jackson's class right now. The Eagles held him to seven catches for 64 yards in the opener. And Riley Cooper's strong outing against the Bucs could: 1. Keep the Cowboys from deploying Carr on Jackson or 2. Help compensate in case Jackson can't find space. But Cooper's overall resume doesn't suggest another big game.
Jackson caught only two passes for 16 yards when matched against Carr in only one game last season. But that was last year's offense. Even if Jackson sees only Carr all game, there's a good chance Kelly will find a way to free him up.