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Domowitch: Eagles offense needs more from Ertz

IN THREE GAMES since returning from a rib injury, Zach Ertz has been more spectator than participant in the Eagles' passing game.

IN THREE GAMES since returning from a rib injury, Zach Ertz has been more spectator than participant in the Eagles' passing game.

Ertz has played 86 percent of the offensive snaps in those three games, but has been targeted only nine times by Carson Wentz, catching five passes for 73 yards, no touchdowns and three first downs.

Those are unacceptable numbers for the Eagles' tight end, who caught 75 passes for 853 yards last season.

Yes, he's been asked to stay in and block a little more the last two games since rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai replaced suspended Lane Johnson at right tackle.

But if the Eagles' offense is going to operate at anything close to maximum efficiency, Ertz must catch more than five passes every three games.

"It's just a matter of the quarterback and the receivers all getting on the same page," coach Doug Pederson said Friday.

"These are the things that we're working with and through with Carson. Just understanding the personnel that's on the field, the play design, the play-call, and just knowing where everybody is at on the football field. That's why every snap and every rep is so valuable for Carson.

"But I know this: Down the stretch, when you get in the last half of the season, or the last quarter of the season, especially in (cold) weather games, tight ends become a quarterback's friend."

It's easy to forget sometimes that Wentz is a rookie. A very smart, very poised one, but still a rookie.

He still is getting acclimated to the NFL, still is trying to master a new offense, still is trying to get adjusted to the speed of the pro game.

Developing chemistry with his receivers ranks a distant second for Wentz right now to just deciphering what he's looking at on the other side of the line and following the detailed road map that are his reads and progressions.

"It's all part of the offense and how the flow of the game goes," Wentz said. "I'd love to get the ball to him more. I'd love to get the ball to the (wide) receivers more. I'd love to get everybody the ball more. I'd like to complete more passes, too, which is something I need to clean up."

Wentz has completed only 54 percent of his passes the last two games.

"At the end of the day, we're finding the open guy as best we can," Wentz said. "It's just so happened that, the last few games, (Ertz) hasn't had too many targets."

I know most of you long ago deleted the 2015 Eagles season from your memory. But it's worth taking a quick look back to see what can happen when a quarterback and a receiver develop chemistry and trust.

Sam Bradford started 14 games for the Eagles last season. Didn't play particularly well in the first seven after sitting out the entire spring rehabbing his twice-shredded knee.

Ertz and Bradford were two ships passing in the night in those seven games. The tight end was targeted 42 times and caught only 24 passes for 270 yards, no touchdowns and 13 first downs.

The second half of the season was a different story. Bradford gained confidence in both his knee and his tight end and played the best football of his career.

Ertz's production essentially doubled in Bradford's final seven starts. Targeted 66 times, he caught 49 passes for 571 yards, two touchdowns and 25 first downs. If you extended those numbers to 16 games, we're talking 112 receptions, 1,305 yards, five touchdowns and 57 first downs.

"At the end of the year last year, Sam kind of was like, 'It's third down. I'm going to go to Zach, I'm going to go to Jordan (Matthews), I'm going to go to Darren (Sproles)' - guys that he had chemistry built up with," Ertz said.

"Obviously, him not having a preseason and not being able to do OTAs hurt his development. He'll be the first to admit he wasn't as sharp as he wanted to be at the beginning of the year. I wasn't as sharp as I wanted to be coming off the groin injury.

"Chemistry and trust are two of the biggest things you have to have between quarterback and receiver. It's a growing process."

A fractured rib limited Wentz to one preseason performance. Up until eight days before the first regular-season game, he was expected to be the team's No. 3 quarterback this season. Then Bradford was traded and everything changed.

Wentz needs Ertz, and Ertz needs Wentz, and the Eagles needs Wentz-to-Ertz. But it will take time for them to get to that special place where Ertz and Bradford were at the end of last season.

Bradford targeted Ertz 39 times in the last three games. The tight end caught 30 of those passes, 14 for first downs.

"You look at all of the great quarterback-tight end combinations, they've been together for a long time," Ertz said. "Rob (Gronkowski) and Tom (Brady). Greg (Olsen) and Cam (Newton). Antonio (Gates) and Philip (Rivers).

"When you're able to have consistency at the tight end position, the chemistry can only grow."

Ertz isn't going anywhere anytime soon. He signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract extension with the Eagles last January. And Wentz isn't going anywhere, either. So, the two of them will have a lot of time to grow their chemistry.

No Bennie

Trying to neutralize NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott is a difficult enough task under normal circumstance. Subtract one of the league's best run-stopping defensive tackles from the equation and the job gets significantly tougher.

That will be the case for the Eagles on Sunday night when they face Elliott and the 5-1 Cowboys in an important NFC East battle at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, without Bennie Logan.

Logan, who missed last week's game with a groin strain, has been ruled out of the Cowboys game.

"It's huge," coach Pederson said of not having Logan against the league's No. 1 rushing attack. "It's big. Anytime you lose a great player like Bennie in the middle for a couple of weeks, it can definitely hurt you a little bit.

"But I've always been of the next-man-up mentality. And that's where we're at."

The next man up is Beau Allen, who will take the lion's share of the snaps alongside All-Pro tackle Fletcher Cox.

Allen played 67 percent of the snaps in the Eagles' 21-10 win over the previously undefeated Vikings last week. The Eagles had six sacks and held the Vikings to 93 rushing yards on 27 carries.

"Beau played good," Pederson said. "He's a guy who gives you great effort every time he's in there."

It should be noted that the Cowboys' offensive line is considerably better than the patchwork group the Vikings trotted out. And Elliott is slightly more dangerous than Matt Asiata.

Rookie Destiny Vaeao and recent waiver-wire acquisition Taylor Hart also will get some snaps at defensive tackle. Hart tweaked his ankle in practice Thursday and didn't practice Friday. But Pederson said he will be available Sunday night. Hart was listed as questionable on the Eagles' Friday injury report.


Besides Logan, the only other player listed as out for the Cowboys game is backup linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill ... Sending along get-well wishes to the Eagles' retired longtime ticket sales VP, Leo Carlin, who is battling pneumonia ... The Eagles practiced in their indoor facility at NovaCare on Friday, playing crowd noise during the padless practice to help them prepare for the volume at AT&T Stadium ... Cornerback Ron Brooks had surgery Thursday to repair his ruptured quadriceps tendon ... Sunday night's game will be officiated by referee Jerome Boger and his crew, which has called the most penalties in the league in the first seven weeks of the season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Boger crew is averaging 20.3 flags per game. Those officials called 23 penalties in the Week 6 Monday night game between the Jets and Cardinals.

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