PHILADELPHIA − There might have been a game back when DeVonta Smith was in high school or playing youth league football where he did not have at least one catch in a game.
But it sure didn’t happen in four seasons at Alabama, where Smith had at least one catch in every game. Interestingly enough, Smith played in eight games as a true freshman at Alabama and had exactly one catch in every game. That included the national championship game in Jan. 2018 when he caught the game-winning 41-yard TD pass from Tua Tagovailoa to beat Georgia.
And it sure didn’t happen last season, Smith’s rookie season with the Eagles in the NFL when he set a franchise rookie record with 916 receiving yards on 64 receptions.
So it must have been a shock to Smith to get shut out in the season opener last Sunday against the Detroit Lions during the Eagles’ 38-35 victory.
It sure was a shock to Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen.
“DeVonta is a premier player in this league, and did I think in a million years he wouldn’t have a catch?” Steichen said. “Absolutely not. I did not think it was going to go that way.”
It’s not like the Eagles didn’t try to get the ball to Smith. He was targeted four times. The first was a bullet pass along the sidelines that Smith couldn’t hang onto. It wasn’t ruled a drop, however, because Smith likely would’ve been out of bounds had he held on. He also had an 11-yard reception that was negated by a holding penalty on Jordan Mailata.
A.J. Brown made up for Smith’s lack of production. He had 10 catches on 13 targets for 155 yards. The other wide receivers, running backs and tight ends combined for 16 targets.
The Eagles scored 31 points and had 455 yards of total offense. So they were obviously moving the ball, even without any production from Smith.
But the Eagles know that’s not sustainable. Smith needs to be involved, if not to get the defenses from focusing the attention on Brown.
“There [are] so many good things we did,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “But coming away, you’re like, ‘DeVonta Smith didn’t get any catches?’ Sometimes you don’t feel that in the game. He has to touch the ball. There’s no doubt about it. He has to touch the ball. It’s just the way the game went.”
The Eagles, as NFL people like to say, have a lot of mouths to feed with the addition of Brown. That wasn’t really the case last season. But the Eagles’ success is also predicated on running the ball. They led the NFL last season, averaging 159 yards per game. And they rushed for 216 yards last Sunday against the Lions.
Hurts led all NFL quarterbacks last season in rushing with 784 yards. He ran the ball 17 times for 90 yards against Detroit. Some rushes came on designed plays, while others came when the pocket collapsed as Hurts was attempting to pass.
Hurts will often take off and run rather than checking down to a second or third receiver. So if Brown is Hurts’ first option, and he’s covered, Hurts might either look to Smith, a running back in the flat, or just run if he sees an opening.
Against the Lions, Hurts picked up first downs by running on 3rd-and-15 and 3rd-and-6.
All of that, however, cuts into the amount of passes that go around. That includes Smith, tight end Dallas Goedert and receiver Quez Watkins. Goedert had 830 yards receiving last season. Against the Lions, Goedert had 3 catches for 60 yards.
Watkins had 647 yards receiving last season. He wasn’t even targeted against the Lions.
Brown, for one, expects that to change beginning this Monday night against the Vikings. Minnesota, no doubt, saw Brown get open all over the field, whether it was catching a 54-yard bomb down the sideline, or the medium-range catches over the middle.
The Vikings will likely give him extra attention Monday night. If that happens, it will be up to Smith and the others to take advantage.
“We know we have weapons on offense, and (Sunday) was my day,” Brown said. “Next week it could be DeVonta’s day or Dallas’ day.”
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.