Vincent Jackson left Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots with what appeared to be a rib injury, and we’re still not sure just how severe the injury is for the Bucs’ star receiver.
#Bucs WR Vincent Jackson, who left Sunday with a rib injury, is undergoing a full battery of tests this morning. Too early to know severity.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 23, 2013
And with Jackson’s early season struggles, including multiple dropped passes, it would be easy to make a comment like this one, from Tampa Tribune beat writer Roy Cummings.
Not sure how long Bucs WR Vincent Jackson will be out with his rib injury but based on the way he’s playing I’m not sure it matters.
— Roy Cummings (@RCummingsTBO) September 23, 2013
You could make a comment like that, but you would be wrong.
Vincent Jackson is quite possibly the most important player on offense for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and dropping the football twice per game doesn’t change that. Look at this statistic provided before the game by Pro Football Focus and Rotoworld’s Mike Clay.
Josh Freeman has targeted Vincent Jackson on an absurd 45% of his throws this year.#Bucs
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) September 22, 2013
And considering that Mike Williams sees most of the other targets in the Tampa Bay offense, you can begin to see why the top two receivers are vital to the success of the Tampa Bay offense.
So just imagine for a moment what will happen if Vincent Jackson isn’t out. Will it not matter, as implied by Roy Cummings in the tweet above?
The Bucs’ next opponent will be the Arizona Cardinals, who have star cornerback Patrick Peterson as the anchor of a fairly good defense. If Mike Williams and Kevin Ogletree are the starting wide receivers for Tampa Bay, Peterson is likely going to spend his time near Williams as often as possible. That’s awful for the Buccaneers, and for Williams, who is certainly better as a secondary option in the passing game rather than the primary option who draws double teams, safety help, and lockdown corners.
So that leaves Kevin Ogletree as the best option to throw the football to, and Ogletree has had worse hands this season than even Jackson. Eric Page also enters the fray, but as we saw on Sunday, his diminutive stature isn’t ideal for Josh Freeman, who tends to throw the ball high. That suits Vincent Jackson well (but not his ribs, apparently), but for Page that becomes a problem.
Vincent Jackson is a safety net for Josh Freeman, as he gets open on almost every play and provides a big target for the inaccurate quarterback to throw to. The likelihood of success when throwing to Vincent Jackson is much higher than it is to any other receiver, because he’s capable of catching the ball in a very wide range surrounding his body.
Jackson needs to improve his consistency and catch more passes as the season goes along, that’s for sure. But to imply the Buccaneers wouldn’t miss him is absolutely absurd.
Consider what the passing game would look like without Vincent? Teams would easily be able to defend the other receivers on the field, leaving players free to read Josh Freeman’s eyes and provide help all over the field.
Furthermore, teams could more easily stack the box and work to stop Doug Martin and the running game, which would further compound problems.
The Buccaneers aren’t deep enough to dismiss a star receiver because he’s dropped a handful of passes. If you’re frustrated by the offense over the first three games, just wait until you see it without Vincent Jackson, should he miss any time with this injury.