Philadelphia Eagles wide receivers must be able to win one on one matchups against press coverage next season. Head coach Chip Kelly knows this; teams had some success on defense against the Eagles last season by using a single high safety with their corners pressing at the line of the scrimmage. The other safety could then come into the box and help contain the Eagles running game. Kelly knows his receivers have to beat press coverage and he confirmed this in his press conference last week when he said, “If you can’t get off the line of scrimmage, you’re done.” He also said that “the corners are getting bigger in this league and the wideouts are getting bigger in this league.”
This is almost certainly a big reason why Kelly chose to release former Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson (5 foot 10, 178 lbs) and decided to resign receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin (6 foot 3 225 lbs, 6 foot 200 lbs). He also drafted receiver Jordan Matthews to play the slot despite being 6 foot 3 and 215 lbs; unusually big for a slot receiver. However, just because you are big does not mean that you will easily beat press coverage, there is a skill involved. Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) of Philly Mag wrote a great article about DeSean Jackson and press coverage where he went back and watched all of Jackson’s 85 receptions from last season and found out that only 15 came against press coverage. This gave me the idea to compare Jackson’s stats against other Eagles receivers (including playoffs) so I went back and watched all of Riley Coopers receptions from last year. Cooper had 53 receptions in total and 12 of these came against press coverage.
The table above shows that Cooper was slightly more efficient against press coverage than Jackson was which is not a surprise. Although Cooper was only slightly more efficient, when I was watching all of his catches from last season there were a number of occasions where the defense pressed Jackson at the line of scrimmage but did not press Cooper as they realized he was harder to press. The image below shows an example of this.
I also went back and watched the majority of Jeremy Maclin’s catches from the 2012 season. It is difficult to compare figures because teams played a lot more zone against the Eagles in 2012 than they did in 2013. However, I watched 54 of Maclin’s receptions and 13 of them came against press coverage which is fairly high. When watching Maclin I was really impressed at how he beat press coverage and in particular man coverage. He was extremely explosive out of his breaks and seemed very difficult to cover one on one; Chip Kelly must be extremely excited to see him in his offense this year. I also watched three games of Jordan Matthews playing for Vanderbilt last season. Matthews had 17 catches in the games I watched but only 3 of them came against press coverage; however I would not worry. Teams rarely play press coverage in college and zone is used a lot more frequently than it is in the NFL. However, when Jordan Matthews did get matched up one on one against a cornerback he usually beat them using his size and speed and had no problems getting off press coverage when he was pressed. He has a very fast release off the line of scrimmage which helped him avoid press coverage. The table below adds Jeremy Maclin and Jordan Matthews so you can compare all four receivers.
When watching Cooper, Maclin and Matthews it became clear to me why Kelly wants these receivers in his offense. All three receivers looked very good against press coverage and in particular man coverage. The Eagles receivers have the size and speed to defeat press man coverage next season, expect the Eagles offense to put up some crazy numbers once again.