Dallas Goedert doesn’t exactly labor in obscurity – the second-year tight end has played 64 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps this season, with 54 catches for 542 yards and five touchdowns – but the one thing he has never done is start a game without Zach Ertz.
Sunday’s game against the New York Giants might be Goedert’s shot at going solo, so to speak, with the NFC East title and the Eagles’ season on the line. If they win, they would host San Francisco or Seattle in the Wild Card round. If they lose and Dallas wins at home vs. Washington, the Eagles will be done. If the Eagles and Dallas both lose, the Eagles would get the nod.
Ertz did not practice Thursday with what the Eagles said were rib and back injuries. Earlier this week, the assumption was that if the rib fracture Ertz suffered against Dallas on Sunday was nondisplaced, the Eagles’ leading receiver (88 catches, 916 yards, six touchdowns) could take the field at MetLife Stadium, providing his pain could be managed effectively.
The back injury complicates that scenario, and might explain why Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Thursday that Ertz would need to be cleared to play. Pederson also made a reference to “trying to just make sure that if things go according to what we hope is our plan, that he would possibly be ready for next week” and that hypothetical playoff game.
Giants coach Pat Shurmur said in a conference call with Eagles reporters that he would prepare for a healthy Ertz. (This tends to be what coaches say in these situations, until an opponent is officially ruled out.)
If Ertz doesn’t play, Goedert could be the focus of more defensive attention than he has ever experienced.
“I’m not looking too far into that,” Goedert said. “Zach obviously draws a lot of coverage. I think the coaches will do what they can to try to eliminate that, to try to get us in the best situations, where that’s not happening.”
Ertz was not available to reporters Thursday. He hasn’t missed a game since Dec. 10, 2017, when he was inactive at the Rams because of a concussion. Ertz has played 86 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps this season; the team has used two tight ends on about half its snaps, with a healthy smattering of three-tight-end sets.
The Eagles this week brought back tight end Richard Rodgers, who was released off injured reserve with an injury settlement on Sept. 11, to bolster the position behind Goedert. The group also includes Josh Perkins.
Ertz took a bit of a back seat against Dallas (six targets, four catches for 28 yards) after suffering the rib injury reaching for a high Carson Wentz pass over the middle on the first drive of the game. Ertz was blasted by safety Xavier Woods. He went to the locker room but eventually returned to the game.
“Anytime that happens, I feel bad,” Wentz said Thursday. “We’ll see how he progresses, but regardless of who’s out there, you’ve seen these past few weeks, Dallas has stepped up, Josh Perkins has stepped up. The guys that are ready to go, they’ll be ready to go.”
Goedert, who has never lacked for confidence, is coming off his career-best game, catching nine passes on 12 targets for 91 yards and a touchdown. He has played all over the formation, especially during the recent wide-receiver-injury crisis, but the Eagles’ tendency has been to move Ertz outside and keep Goedert in-line when both are in the game.
“I think I’ll be all over the place, kind of like I have been [lately],” Goedert said.
Goedert caught three passes on six targets in the Eagles’ Dec. 9 overtime victory over the visiting Giants. Ertz caught nine passes on 13 targets for 91 yards, including the 2-yard touchdown passes that got the Eagles even with 1 minute, 53 seconds remaining and gave them the 23-17 victory with 5:10 remaining in overtime.
Rodgers, meanwhile, has had a star-crossed, two-year run with the Eagles since the former Packer signed as a free agent. He went on IR with a knee injury on Sept. 4, 2018, then returned for the final seven games and the playoffs, never playing more than 13 offensive snaps. This year, he was carted off with a foot injury during a joint practice with the Baltimore Ravens. The Eagles seemed done with him, but the Ertz injury abruptly changed that.
If the Eagles want to put a tight end in-line while they flank out Goedert, Rodgers, with 70 NFL games to his credit, might be the choice over Perkins, who is more of a receiver than a blocker. Pederson said that Rodgers is in good shape and that his recall of the scheme and terminology “has been really good this week.”
Rodgers said he hasn’t been told what his role might be against the Giants.
“I’ve been in playoff games before, I’ve been in some pretty big games,” Rodgers said. “For me, it’s that approach, playoff approach. You’ve got to lock in, and everyone focus on their job.”
Rodgers was enthusiastic about Goedert possibly shouldering a bigger role.
“He’s a great player. I’m been with him since he came in … if you put on the tape, you’ll see how good he is and what he’s able to do. He’s going to continue to grow,” Rodgers said. “He’s capable of doing anything any tight end does.”