Matt Lombardo
nj.com



PHILADELPHIA -- Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was expected to be the focal point of the offense after signing a one-year, $9.5 million deal with the Eagles on the first day of free agency in March, but through seven games, he has been almost an afterthought.

Although the Eagles are 6-1 and sitting atop the NFC East, Jeffery has only 26 catches for 354 yards, and two touchdowns. He has been targeted 54 times by quarterback Carson Wentz.

"I think it's just part of football," Jeffery said Thursday. "If you want to win, you have to sacrifice sometime. It's a team sport. It takes everyone. It ain't like basketball, not everyone can score 40 every night. It's fine with me. We're winning. I'm happy."

In his two best seasons with the Chicago Bears, when Jeffery played all 16 games, he caught 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, and 85 passes for 1,133 yards and 10 TDs in 2014. Quarterback Jay Cutler started 26 of those games.

Jeffery is currently on pace for 59 catches for 809 yards and four TDs -- so-so numbers for a big-name receiver who is playing with one of the NFL's leading passers.

Tight end Zach Ertz leads the Eagles in nearly every receiving category with 39 catches for 494 yards and five touchdowns -- on four more targets than Jeffery. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor, with two fewer catches than Jeffery, has 366 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

At times, Jeffery has been a decoy, leading opposing defensive coordinators to shade a safety over the top against him, which has given Ertz and Agholor more space to operate between the hashmarks.

Wentz appears to feel most comfortable on passes over the middle, and is on pace to target the tight end and slot receivers on 221 attempts this season.

"It comes with the territory," Jeffery said. "It's part of football. They can draw two to me, someone will be open. Nelson, Torrey, someone's open.

"We're just helping each other out. Zach's having a hell of a season. Nelson's having a hell of a season. Some games it's going to be me. That's just how it goes."

Jeffery's presence has had an impact on the Eagles' offense. Wentz has taken more shots downfield than a year ago. Ertz and Agholor continue to improve largely because of the added space they have to operate, and the running game has gained traction. Teams cannot stack the box against the run, because Wentzcan -- and has -- beaten them with his arm.

Jeffery signed a one-year deal with the Eagles, and his off-season value could be tied to his statistical performance.

"I think that will take care of itself," Jeffery said. "I'm not worried about no contract. I'm just trying to play football, trying to win a championship."

Jeffery said he has been impressed by the rapid development of Wentz and his chemistry with his new quarterback.

"I think it's going great," Jeffery said. "Like I say, Carson hits whoever is open. That's how the offense should be.

"I think for a second-year player, he's doing a hell of a job. He's no longer a rookie, he's a veteran now. He's surpassed that, by far. His development has been great. He's a great leader on and off the field. He's a football junkie."