ZACH ERTZ has been a strong finisher the last two seasons. A year ago, with Sam Bradford as the Eagles' quarterback, he was targeted 46 times in the last four games and caught 35 passes for 450 yards and 18 first downs.

This year, with rookie Carson Wentz behind center, Ertz was targeted 54 times in the Eagles' final five games and caught 40 passes for 443 yards and 24 first downs.

Those numbers can be viewed two ways. One is that they are of little significance since they were compiled at the end of losing seasons in largely meaningless games.

The other is that, meaningless games or not, Ertz is a really, really good pass-catching tight end once he gets on the same page with his quarterback.

The people who don't like Ertz, the people who think his decision to take a rain check on that block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict in early December is a more accurate reflection of the type of player he is than his late-season pass-catching numbers the last two years, are going to choose Door No. 1.

There's nothing Ertz can really do about that other than go out there next year, block his ass off and put up the kind of receiving numbers over a full season that will shut his critics up.

"I'm focused on going out there and making plays whether it's September or January," the 26-year-old tight end said. "I love the game of football. If there's an opportunity to go out there and show what I can do, I'm going to do it. Every week's a job interview for us as players."

Now that he has spent the better part of a full year with Wentz, now that he plans on spending almost as much time this offseason with his new quarterback as he will with his fiancée, USA national soccer team standout Julie Johnston, who he will marry this spring, he is hoping to have a career year in 2017 that will establish him as one of the league's top tight ends.

"I don't think people understand the chemistry factor that plays into receiver-quarterback success," Ertz said. "For the quarterback to trust you and know exactly where you're going to be, it just takes time.

"It's hard to do it over and over again (with different quarterbacks). But with Carson here, we're going to finally be able to get that long-term chemistry. We're going to get together this offseason and talk about what went well and what didn't and just build from there."

It's not all that surprising that it took a while for Wentz and Ertz to click this season. Until Bradford was traded eight days before the start of the season, Wentz was expected to be the Eagles' No. 3 quarterback this season. Ertz and the rest of the team's starting receivers didn't take a lot of snaps with Wentz in the spring or in training camp. The rookie also missed three of the Eagles' four preseason games with a rib injury.

Then Ertz injured his ribs in Week 1 and missed two games. In the four games following his return, he was targeted only 13 times by Wentz.

"There were some times and plays early on where we weren't on the same page and it showed in the targets and catches that I had early in the year," Ertz said.

"I've had five quarterbacks in my four years here. It's hard to build that trust and consistency with a quarterback if they're constantly getting shipped out of here.

"But when they drafted Carson, we knew we finally were going to have the opportunity to build that chemistry with one quarterback for a long time. Guys are excited about that. I'm excited about that.

"Guys are going to stay around here in the offseason to build chemistry with Carson because we know he's going to be staying in the area (but for the occasional hunting trip back to North Dakota).

"We were stacking the bricks with each other every day this season. Before practice. In between practice periods. After practice. It's going to pay off as we move forward together."

Ertz isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and neither, obviously, is Wentz. Which means they're going to be together for a while. Ertz signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract extension with the Eagles last January.

"I want to have 100 (receiving) yards each and every game," Ertz said. "I know that's not possible. The tight end record is 1,327 yards (by the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski in 2011) or something like that.

"But the opportunity Carson and I have here, finally getting on the same page, building that trust - we finally started developing that trust at the end of the year, and it's going to take us a long way."

Figuring the Eagles


Carson Wentz completed 31.3 percent of his throws of 20 or more yards this season. He was 21-for-67 for 650 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions on 20-plus-yard passes. Ertz and slot receiver Jordan Matthews caught 16 of those 21 completions and three of the six touchdowns. A breakdown of Wentz's deep balls:
Player..............Targ.......Rec.......Yds........TD
Matthews............... 21............ 9........... 253............1
Ertz..........................12.............7............159.............2
Agholor....................11............ 2.............75............ 2
Sproles......................1............ 1............. 73............ 1
Treggs......................7............ 1..............58............ 0
Burton......................7............ 1..............32............ 0
Green-Beckham......8.............0.............. 0............0
* How do Wentz's deep-ball numbers compare to previous years. Well, last year, Sam Bradford was 17-for-54 (31.5 percent) for 634 yards, five TDs and two interceptions on throws of 20-plus yards in 13 starts. In 2014, Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez were a combined 32-for-96 (33.3 percent) for 658 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. In 2013, Foles was 25-for-55 (45.4 percent) for 803 yards, 14 touchdowns and one interception on 20-plus-yard throws.
* Just 17 percent of Wentz's passes traveled 16 or more yards, 30.5 percent traveled 6-to-15 yards and 52.5 percent were throws of 5 yards or less.
* In their first nine games, the Eagles had the worst third-down conversion rate in the league (33.0), yet still managed to win five of those nine games. They were much better on third down in their last seven games, converting 43.4 percent of their third-down opportunities. That was the 10th best third-down mark in the league over the last seven games. Yet, they were 2-5.
* Four of the Eagles' seven wins this season were over playoff teams — the Steelers, Falcons, Giants and Cowboys. The only two teams in the league that had more regular-season wins over playoff teams were Green Bay and Tennessee. Both had five. The Patriots also had four. A total of 17 teams had two or more wins over playoff teams. The Eagles and the 5-11 Chargers (two wins over playoff teams) were the only two teams with losing records in that group. They were:
Team.........Record............Wins over playoff teams
Green Bay........... 10-6................. 5
Tennessee............ 9-7.................. 5
EAGLES............... 7-9.................. 4
New England......... 14-2.............. 4
Dallas.............. 13-3...................... 3
Kansas City......... 12-4................ 3
NY Giants........... 11-5................. 3
Seattle............. 10-5-1................. 3
Tampa Bay............ 9-7................ 3
Minnesota............ 8-8................. 3
Atlanta............  11-5.................... 2
Pittsburgh.......... 11-5................. 2
Denver............... 9-7................... 2
Houston.............. 9-7.................. 2
Washington.......... 8-7-1............ 2
Baltimore..........  8-8.................. 2
San Diego........... 5-11................ 2
* The Eagles had 26 false start penalties, which was the third most in the league, behind Kansas City (29) and Oakland (27) and tied with Seattle. Left tackle Jason Peters had a league-high 10 of them, which was far and away the most of his career. False starts historically happen more often on the road where noise is a factor. But seven of Peters' 10 false starts, and 17 of the team's 26 came at the Linc.
* Cornerback Nolan Carroll was flagged for an NFL-high seven pass interference penalties (91 yards). Center Jason Kelce's six holding penalties tied him for the second most with seven other players. The Eagles finished ninth in total penalties (113) and 12th in penalty yards (945).
* Jordan Matthews had a 62.3 catch percentage this season. He was targeted 117 times and had 73 receptions. The rest of the Eagles' wide receivers had a collective 52.1 catch percentage (97 catches in 186 targets).

This and that

* While most of the Eagle autopsies have correctly listed wide receiver and cornerback as major offseason needs, don't overlook defensive end. Jim Schwartz said last month that the lifeblood of his defense always is going to be putting pressure on the quarterback. They weren't able to do that consistently enough this season with the four-man rush Schwartz prefers.
Brandon Graham had a very good season at left end, finishing among the league leaders in hurries. But he's not a guy who is going to force offenses to slide protection to his side.
Right end is a problem. Connor Barwin struggled. Howie Roseman foolishly overpaid Vinny Curry when he was about to become an unrestricted free agent last March. Curry was supposed to be the major benefactor of the switch back to a 4-3. He played a career-high 43 percent of the defensive snaps, but had just 2.5 sacks and 11 hurries. The Eagles need to take a long look at the available edge-rushers in both free agency and the draft. But given the money they're already paying Curry, Graham and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, don't look for them to go after any of the top free-agent edge-rushers, such as the Chargers' Melvin Ingram.
* In 1994, then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue had this to say about the concussion issue in the NFL: "I think concussions are one of those pack journalism issues, frankly. There is no increase in concussions. The number is relatively small. The problem is a journalist issue." Amazingly, in three weeks, the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 48-member selection committee will vote on whether to put the man who uttered those words into the Hall of Fame. If Kevin Turner still was alive, I wonder how he would feel about that.
* Brian Dawkins, who was one of the game's fiercest hitters when he played, gets asked a lot about whether he could thrive in today's NFL with the player-safety restrictions. "People say on Twitter, 'You couldn't play in today's NFL,' "said Dawkins, who retired after the 2011 season and is a finalist for the Hall of Fame. "But I did play in today's NFL. I got fined $50,000."
He is referring to his memorable 2002 hit on Giants wide receiver Ike Hilliard, which dislocated Hilliard's shoulder and ended his season.
"You just learn to adjust," he said. "You learn to lower your target. You use your shoulder more. That's what I did. I tried my best to use my right shoulder because that's my power arm. But every once in a while, I led with my head. I did. But you learn to adjust.
"The (big) hit still is revered. You have to have physicality. If you don't have physicality in the National Football League, you're just out there. And if you're just out there, you're probably getting beat."

@Pdomo

Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog