On the day the Eagles drafted Zach Ertz in April 2013, Chip Kelly mentioned how the NFL had been moving in the direction of playing multiple tight ends together to create mismatches. At the time, the Patriots' two-tight end offense was in vogue.
In Kelly's first season, the team's listed depth chart even included two tight ends as the base offense. But the Eagles' listed base offense during the past two seasons has been as a three-receiver set, and they barely used the two-tight end set in the first four games this season.
That changed in the Eagles' 39-17 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, when Kelly made the two-tight end formation a more prominent part of the offense. Ertz played 67 percent of the snaps. Brent Celek played 58 percent of the snaps. They played more than 25 percent of the offensive snaps together. The tight ends combined for eight catches for 104 yards and one touchdown, and were key in jump-starting the running game.
"We knew going into the game Brent and I were going to have more opportunities," Ertz said. "I thought we did a good job. We were successful with both of us in the game, and hopefully it's something that continues."
Kelly said the increased usage of the two-tight end set was part of the game-planning chess match. The coaches watched film to see how the Saints defend "12 personnel" - two tight ends and one running back - and they used it to try to get on the field against certain formations.
Most defenses play their base defense against the two-tight end set, which brings a bigger body onto the field compared to a nickel formation, when a team has an extra cornerback. One reason the Eagles have not featured the two-tight end offense as much this year is they like playing three-receiver sets, with defenses responding by playing nickel to try to cover Jordan Matthews in the slot. The Eagles can then run against the nickel formation, when the defense has one less big body.
Of course, the two-tight end offense allows the Eagles to have a bigger body on the field and better blocking.
"We can see right away how they match up to that and what we want to do," Celek said. "If they go nickel, we can run the ball on them - we've got two guys who can block in there - and if they go into base and we want to pass it, we can pass it."
The Saints played both nickel and base defense against the Eagles' two-tight end sets. The Eagles have a balanced offense when both tight ends are on the field, with a near 50-50 pass-run distribution.
Celek spent most of the game as a blocker - he blocked on 63.4 percent of his snaps, according to Pro Football Focus - but he also caught all three targets and a touchdown pass. A linebacker was on Celek each time, although he said he benefited from blown coverages. He didn't even know his numbers. Celek, a nine-year veteran, stopped caring about his statistical production after five or six years in the league.
"I don't look at stats anymore," he said. "Doesn't do anything for me."
Ertz ran pass patterns on 63.6 percent of his snaps, and he blocked on the other downs. He finished with five catches for 60 yards, his best outing of the season. He has played 64 percent of the offensive snaps this year, which is a 14 percent increase from last season. But Sunday was the first time his playing time and Celek's playing time were steady together.
"I like to think I can get open regardless of who's on me," Ertz said, "but we knew going into the game that the two-tight end package was going to be on the field a little bit more than it has in prior weeks."
The downside to playing two tight ends is it takes another skill position player off the field, usually a wide receiver. The personnel package where Celek and Ertz are most prominently featured brings Matthews to the sideline.
With the New York Giants visiting on Monday, the tight ends could again be involved. The Giants have struggled covering tight ends this season, allowing 36 catches for 395 yards and four touchdowns against tight ends in five games, an average of 7.2 catches, 79 yards, and 0.8 touchdowns. And in two games against the Giants last season, the Eagles' tight ends averaged 6.5 catches for 87.5 yards and 1.5 touchdowns.
"Hopefully it stays in the game plan," Ertz said.
Notable. The Eagles signed offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson from the San Francisco 49ers practice squad and released Julian Vandervelde. Hawkinson, 25, is a 6-5, 300-pound tackle from Kansas. He appeared in four games with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012 and 2014. Hawkinson was a fifth-round pick in the 2013 draft.