How Celek turned his season around
All of a sudden, after averaging fewer than two catches per game in the Eagles' first five games, tight end Brent Celek leads the team with 54 receptions.
It's been a tale of two seasons for Celek. His effort's never been a question, and he's improved as a blocker, but in the first five games, Celek averaged 1.8 catches and 14.6 yards per contest. Since then, he's averaged 5 catches and 66.7 yards.
So, what's been the difference? Let's take a look.
Last year, on pass plays, Celek stayed in to block about 23 percent of the time and went out into pass routes about 77 percent of the time. He finished the season with 42 catches for 511 yards - disappointing numbers, considering Celek piled up 76 catches for 971 yards the year before.
This season, Celek's staying in to block 25 percent of the time on pass plays and going out into pass routes about 75 percent of the time. Overall, he's actually blocking more on pass plays this year than last year.
But there have certainly been exceptions.
Here's a look at those numbers on a game-by-game basis. Thanks to Pro Football Focus for providing much of the data for this post:
While overall, Celek has blocked more this year on passing plays, that hasn't always been the case when you look at specific games. For example, last week against the Jets, he stayed in to block on just three of 25 passing plays.
In the first game against the Cowboys, Celek stayed in to block only four times on 35 pass plays.
In the first five games of the season, Celek blocked 30 percent of the time and went out into pass routes 70 percent of the time. In the last nine, it's a 21 percent/79 percent split. So yes, Celek has been blocking less in the past nine games. But has that been the major factor in his increased production?
Celek is averaging about 5.79 targets per game. Last year, that number was 5.2. So more passes are being thrown his way, but not many more. In the first five games, Celek averaged 4.2 targets; since then, it's been about 6.8.
More looks? Yes. But the major difference has not been number of targets, but rather what happens when the ball is thrown Celek's way.
In the first six games, his catch rate was awful - 13 catches on 30 targets, 43.3 percent. To put that into perspective, Football Outsiders lists 45 tight ends who have been targeted at least 23 times, and none of them have a catch rate that low through 14 games. Only three - Chicago's Kellen Davis, the Rams' Lance Kendricks and Jacksonville's Marcedes Lewis - are under 50 percent.
Somehow, Celek has worked his way all the way up to 66 percent. In the last eight games, that number is 78.8 percent (41 catches on 52 targets). To put that into perspective, none of the 45 tight ends mentioned above has a catch rate over 77 percent for the entire season.
Drops had been a problem for Celek in the past. According to PFF, he had six drops in the Eagles' first nine games, but has not had a single drop in the past five.
Celek's hitting on big plays too, as we saw last week. He is averaging 12.5 yards per catch has 11 catches of 20+ yards, which is tied for second on the team, behind only DeSean Jackson.
Looking ahead to Saturday's matchup with the Cowboys, Celek should once again have opportunities to do damage. In the first game against Dallas, he led the team in targets (9), catches (7) and receiving yards (93). According to Football Outsiders, the Cowboys rank 22nd at defending opposing tight ends.
Come Saturday, Celek should have an opportunity to build on what's turned into a standout season.