THERE WERE a dozen disconnects in that Tuesday night game between the Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings, and the 7-10 split stood out in many ways. The inability of Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson to read each other's mind, the essence of success between a quarterback and a wide receiver in the modern NFL, was as bad as it had been all season.
The wideout needs to see the blitz pressure coming at his quarterback and adjust his route accordingly. The quarterback needs to read the nature and the positioning of the pass coverage and vary his throws as a result. The calculations each of them makes need to be precise and nearly instantaneous.
The problems in that Minnesota game were not only between No. 7 and No. 10, between Vick and Jackson, but because their connection has been so spectacular this season, their inability to connect on that night was also especially prominent. That there needs to be a repair if the Eagles are to have any shot in their wild-card playoff game against the Green Bay Packers is beyond obvious.
"We're on the same page, man," said Jackson, objecting to the entire notion. It was a super-short gang interview in front of his locker, and this was the last question before Jackson headed out to practice.
"Some games, things don't happen the way you want them to happen," he said. "We're professionals. We try to do the best we can, to be on the same page every game. There's going to be games like that but, hopefully, we can eliminate as many [bad] things as possible."
The Vick-Jackson partnership has defined the season in many ways, for better or worse. When it is there, the results are stunning and the Eagles always win. When it isn't there, the outcome of the game is more of a coin flip. In the Eagles' six losses this season, Jackson didn't play in two of them and had 30, 19, 26 and 32 yards receiving in the other four. In their 10 wins, he had five games with at least 98 yards.
Sunday against the Packers, it just seems as if the connection must be restored. This is an Andy Reid/Marty Mornhinweg game in many ways. They must scheme their way to a significant early lead in this one or the odds really shrink for the Eagles. They must get Jackson going in a big way.
"Obviously, when he's involved in the game, our chances go up of scoring points, moving the ball down the field," Vick said. "You've got to get the ball in his hands. If defenses are taking him away, you've got to find a way to get that done. It's tough. One thing you can't do in this league is force the ball to anybody. You'll have balls all over the place, incomplete passes and interceptions, obviously . . . You just have to play within the system."
These days, Jackson fights the perception that he runs uninterested routes when he isn't seeing enough of the ball for his liking. There also is the notion that, after getting knocked cold earlier this season against Atlanta, he isn't very interested in anything to do with the middle of the field.
There is truth in there somewhere. There also is exaggeration. A small receiver, and a recently concussed receiver, always will walk that line. One with Jackson's exaggerated personality - outrageous in his celebrations sometimes, and sulking this season after a loss in Chicago - invites even more comment.
Asked about the care and feeding of wide receivers, jokingly, Vick said: "They always feel like they're open. They all want the ball. They work hard, man; you go out there and watch 'em in practice, it's like they're on the track team. You want to reward those guys. All they do is run, you know?"
Theirs is an interesting dynamic. Jackson and Vick did endure a tense moment or two in the locker room after that Chicago loss, and Vick was quoted the day after Jackson's penalized plunge into the end zone that he didn't think the showboating was such a good idea.
But the truth is that their games are made for each other, and they both know it. Jackson needs time to run away from defenders (which he does like few others) and Vick buys time with his legs (which he does like few others). It is lightning when it works.
This week, it needs to work.
"It's really not about me, man," Jackson said. "It's great to score all the touchdowns and get all the catches and things like that but, as a team, we just have to play together and protect Vick any way possible and just not let people get in his face, and let him be comfortable, so he can sit back and read the defense and throw it to the right guy. That's what we're looking at."
Sit back . . .
Read the defense . . .
Throw it to the right guy.
Read between the lines. *
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