Two weeks ago, Zach Ertz allowed himself to dream of a world with DeSean Jackson rejoining the Eagles’ huddle.
The Eagles tight end has spent the majority of the season dealing with defensive coordinators keying on him, making it harder for Ertz to impact games the way he did last year.
On Oct. 30, with Jackson returning to practice and seemingly back in the fold, Ertz explained how the receiver’s presence would open things up for him.
“I’m definitely excited for him to come back,” Ertz said then. “There’s a lot more condensed coverage in the middle of the field. Oftentimes, I’ll be by myself and their best corner will be on me. A lot of double teams, so I’m just ecstatic to have him back, obviously. They have to account for him."
But Ertz’s daydreams of one-on-one coverage are once again dashed, as Jackson will spend the rest of the regular season on the injured reserve list while recovering from a core muscle injury.
Jackson left the Eagles’ game against the Bears on Nov. 3 after just a handful of plays, but Ertz still managed to capitalize on the extra space with which the Bears started the game. Even after Jackson went out, Ertz put together his best game of the season with nine catches for 103 yards and one touchdown in the team’s 22-14 win.
“I got my number called early and then it kind of carried over,’’ Ertz said after the game. “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.’’
Ertz’s touchdown came against a look he’s grown accustomed to. The Bears’ No. 1 cornerback, Kyle Fuller, had a man-coverage assignment on Ertz, but wasn’t able to break up the pass after Ertz used his size advantage to create space at the top of his route.
“He ran really good routes today,’’ Doug Pederson said after the Bears game. “He was tough. He was physical. He made some contested catches, and that’s who Zach is. It was good to see.’’
Beating Fuller, especially with Jackson stretching on the sideline, was a good sign for Ertz, who will try to build on the solid game against the New England Patriots next Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
But the Patriots’ defense has been the best in the NFL this season. The Bears’ defense is no slouch, ranking No. 5 in total defense allowed and No. 13 in Pro Football Focus’ rankings, but the Patriots are No. 1 in both categories.
The Eagles will likely dig up the tape of their Week 3 loss to the Lions to see how Detroit head coach Matt Patricia, who was the Patriots’ defensive coordinator for six seasons, planned for Ertz.
If that’s any indication, Ertz will likely see a slew of double teams and matchups against cornerback Stephon Gilmore or safety Devin McCourty. Gilmore has three interceptions this season, while McCourty leads the NFL with five picks.
Against Detroit, Ertz had four catches for 64 yards. He has been held under five catches four times this season, and has just two touchdowns. He’s coming off a career year in which he had 116 catches, 1,163 yards, and eight touchdowns.
Ertz said the dip in statistics stems from a change in how defensive coordinators prepare for him.
“It’s tough, I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s easy, but at the same time, I just have to look at it as a sign of respect,” Ertz said on Oct. 30. “I find it funny when people say that I’m worse this year than I was last year. I’m not seeing the same coverages that I saw last year.”