When you catch more passes in a single season than any NFL tight end who has ever walked the face of the earth, the first thing people want to know is what are you going to do for an encore.
And when you have three games like Zach Ertz had against the Vikings (an ugly loss) and Cowboys (an even uglier loss) and Bills (a 31-13 win) where you catch just eight passes, none for touchdowns and only five for first downs, well everybody naturally wants to know what’s going on.
No one needed to ask him that Sunday, though. The Pro Bowl tight end had his most productive performance of the season in the Eagles’ 22-14 win over the Bears.
Targeted 11 times by quarterback Carson Wentz, he had nine catches for 103 yards and one touchdown against the Bears. Eight of his receptions produced first downs, including three on third down.
“It feels good to win and it feels great to be a factor in the win,’’ Ertz said.
With DeSean Jackson lasting just four snaps before re-injuring the core muscle that had sidelined him for the previous six-plus games, and Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor combining for just seven catches for 57 yards, Ertz picked up the slack and helped the Eagles go into the bye week with the momentum of a two-game winning streak and a 5-4 record.
“I got my number called early and then it kind of carried over,’’ Ertz said. “Once you get confidence as a pass-catcher, that’s huge. I was able to have a couple of good ones early and Carson just kept coming to me.’’
Wentz and Ertz connected on a 15-yard slant on a fourth-and-two on the Eagles’ first possession, which set up the first of Jake Elliott’s three field goals.
He had two more catches on the Eagles’ second scoring drive, including another 15-yard completion on a third-and-one at the Chicago 30.
On the Eagles’ third scoring drive, Wentz hit him for 11 yards on another slant route and then found him on a corner-post route for a 25-yard touchdown. It was just Ertz’s second touchdown catch of the season.
“I have my corner-post as kind of a staple,’’ Ertz said. “Dallas (Goedert, the Eagles’ other tight end) kind of gutted the middle of the field so that there was no post safety.
“I was able to lean on 23 (cornerback Kyle Fuller, who was covering Ertz). And Carson did what he does. We have a lot of trust in that route. A lot of time-on-task with that play.’’
Ertz and Goedert were on the field together a lot Sunday as coach Doug Pederson continued to lean heavily on his two-tight end 12-personnel package. The Eagles used 12-personnel on 45 of their 78 offensive plays against the Bears.
Goedert had four catches, including a 16-yard gain on a beautifully-executed third-and-nine middle screen on the Eagles’ clock-eating eight-minute drive in the fourth quarter. Ertz also had a big third-down catch on that last drive, picking up a first down on a third-and-three near midfield with three minutes left in the game.
Ertz said he expected to get some pass-catching opportunities Sunday.
“I kind of felt the past two weeks I was going to be kind of more a focus in the game plan,’’ he said. “Last week, with the wind (in Buffalo), it turned into a running game.
“But this week, I felt I was going to be a factor in the game. I felt confident going into the game. I felt I had a really good week of practice. Both Dallas and myself.’’
Ertz came into Sunday’s game with 37 receptions, which was the most on the team. But his 57.8 catch percentage was the lowest of his career.
Against the Bears, however, he caught all but two of the passes Wentz threw his way. His only two incompletions came on a pair of third-quarter possessions that ended with two of Cam Johnston’s five punts.
“We just missed on a corner route,’’ Ertz said. “And that’s a play we never miss. And then there was the one over the middle, to each his own whether it was a (pass interference) penalty or not.
“Overall though, I thought we were efficient. And efficiency is the key. If I’m 50 percent (catch rate), I shouldn’t be getting the ball more. If I’m 75-80 (percent) I should be getting it more.’’
With Ertz coming off his record 116-catch season and the Eagles’ wide receivers struggling, the seventh-year tight end has drawn a lot more coverage attention.
Also, without Jackson around to stretch the defense, it has shrunk the open space in the intermediate zones where Ertz — and Goedert — make their livings.
But he said he “liked my matchup’’ against the Bears’ two safeties, Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. So did Wentz.
“I think my connection with Zach is always really solid, really strong,’’ said the Eagles quarterback, who completed 26 of 39 passes Sunday despite three drops by Jeffery and another by running back Darren Sproles.
“Some weeks it just shows up out there more than others. When he’s there and when he’s called upon, I have nothing but confidence in him every single time. Just kind of the way they were playing defensively just let us use him a little bit more. And he made some great plays.’’
“He ran really good routes today,’’ Pederson said of Ertz. “He was tough. He was physical. He made some contested catches, and that’s who Zach is. It was good to see.’’
Wentz’s touchdown pass to Ertz was the only one he threw Sunday. It also was the only 20—plus yard completion he had. He averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt. But that wasn’t surprising. The Bears had allowed just 19 20-plus-yard pass plays in their first seven games, the sixth fewest in the league.
“We want to have explosive plays,’’ Ertz said. “We had a couple of them today. But against that defense, you’re not really going to have a bunch of explosive plays.