Zach Ertz is on pace to shatter Eagles and NFL records | Film review
Zach Ertz is having a career year and is on pace to set all-time Eagles and NFL records. A film breakdown of the tight end.
Zach Ertz set career marks for catches (84) and receiving yards (895) in a season in Sunday's win over the New York Giants and it hardly earned a mention after the game. There were other prominent storylines, of course, but it was almost as if the Eagles tight end's accomplishments drifted under the radar because it came only 11 games into the season.
Or maybe his pass-catching skills are being taken for granted. But with five games still left, the 28-year-old Ertz is on pace to accomplish what no other NFL tight end has ever done: Finish the season with more than 100 catches and 1,300 yards receiving. (His projected numbers: 122 catches for 1,302 yards.)
Even if Ertz falls short, he is likely to join select company by season's end. Only three tight ends have had more than 100 receptions in a season (Jason Witten 110, Tony Gonzalez, 102, Dallas Clark 100) and only six have more than 1,200 yards receiving (Rob Gronkowski 1,327, Jimmy Graham 1,310, Kellen Winslow 1,290 and Tony Gonzalez 1,258, Todd Christensen 1,247, Graham 1,215, Jackie Smith 1,215, Gonzalez 1,203) with two having done so twice.
"Probably at the end of the season you can look back and say what a great season he had individually," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Monday, "but collectively we're still trying to win a football game."
The Eagles are more than alive in their chase for consecutive NFC East crowns, but if they were to be eliminated, Ertz's race to the record books would be one reason to stick around. He could set the franchise mark for catches in a season (Brian Westbrook, 90) this Monday against the Redskins.
Some of the best games of Ertz's career have come against Washington. He has three double-digit reception games and averages six catches for 62 yards over ten games. Oddly enough, he has only one touchdown catch against the Redskins.
Ertz went to his first Pro Bowl last season and has widely been considered among the league's at this position for a few years, but with the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski seemingly nearing the end of his career, the Chiefs' Travis Kelce may be the only tight end ranked higher.
This season, Ertz ranks first among NFL tight ends in catches, second in receiving yards (Kelce 914), and third in touchdowns (Eric Ebron 11, Kelce 7) with six.
Here's a closer look at sixth-year tight end's career year (to this point):
There are various reasons for Ertz's offensive explosion. His previous bests in catches (78) and receiving yards (824) came in 2016 and 2017, respectively, but in each of those seasons he lost two games to injury. He's been healthy this season, or at least healthy enough to play. He was slow to get up after one catch Sunday and went for X-rays after the game.
Pederson said his improvement has to do with experience.
Pederson: He's a year older, a year wiser. He is understanding defense, leverage, how teams are trying to either take him away or defend him. I think that's part of it.
Ertz's route running has always been precise, even as far back as his rookie year. On the Eagles' first play from scrimmage against the Giants, for instance, he set up safety Landon Collins and shimmied inside for an easy catch.
Collins might have taken outside leverage looking for help inside, but the run-pass option held the linebacker and created a clear lane for quarterback Carson Wentz, and Ertz picked up 19 yards.
Ertz has a knack for finding soft spots in zone defenses. On this hi-lo concept, he ran the over route. With Golden Tate's shallow cross sucking up the first level, the depth on Ertz's route was deep enough for Wentz to clear the linebackers and shallow enough so that the deep safety couldn't make a play on the ball.
If there was one route Ertz would like to have back this season it would probably be the hitch he ran on fourth down and 7 late in the Cowboys game. He caught the pass but shy of the marker.
Nelson Agholor stopped his route short and was supposed to get further up field to help slow safety Jeff Heath's break. Nevertheless, Ertz probably should have gotten deeper.
The emergence of rookie Dallas Goedert as a competent blocker has allowed Ertz to run more routes. He's staying in to block about five percent less than last season. It's also allowed for him to line up more in the slot.
Pederson: It's really kind of freed up Zach for us to move him around a little bit and put him into some receiver-type positions and be successful there.
Of his routes run, 55 percent have come from the slot. In his previous five seasons, 44 percent of his routes were from the slot. This season, he has 44 catches for 514 yards when he lines up in the slot, per Pro Football Focus.
Safety, linebacker or cornerback, Ertz wins more than his share in man coverage as he did here vs. Giants slot corner Grant Haley.
Ertz's 10-yard grab came on third and eight. He has a team-high 14 catches on third down, but considering his catch percentage (75.7) it could be argued that the Eagles need to go to him more often. Ertz's catch percentage is the highest of his career and almost eight percentage points higher than his average (67.8) in his first five seasons.
Ertz: I love being the guy that they continually go to.
Ertz uncharacteristically dropped two passes in the season opener against the Falcons, but since then he's had only three drops, per PFF. He's averaging only one drop every 22.2 targets, which is in line with his career average (one every 26.5 targets).
His 10-inch hands are as strong as they come, as he showed on this first down grab against Dallas.
Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh: Obviously, we've got a lot of trust in him. Carson has a lot of trust in his ability. And he's got strong hands and we all know that.
Ertz has 11 catches for six touchdowns in the red zone. He's been targeted 18 times inside the 20 – sixth-most in the NFL – but he could get more looks. He has more red zone touchdowns (14) than any other tight end over the last two years.
All his skills come into play in tight quarters – crisp routes, athleticism, strong hands – but having a large frame (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) helps. On this 5-yard touchdown against the Jaguars, Ertz had beat the defensive back so bad that all Wentz needed to do was loft his pass to be high-pointed.
Groh: He's a big guy and he's got excellent play strength, a really good catch radius and strong hands. So he can catch it away from his body, and even in those tight he's able to create a little bit more space for himself by using his body and his length.
Yards After Catch
Picking up yards after the catch isn't Ertz's forte. It would be nice if he could do more post-catch, but physicality has never been a big part of his game. He's had some nice moments this season, like this 15-yard touchdown catch Sunday.
Pederson: It was a great catch stepping back through the linebacker, through the defender, to be able to catch the ball and break that tackle and get in the end zone. Those are all things you expect from your tight end, and he has really taken that to another level for him this year.
Ertz's average yards after catch is down this season (2.96) vs. the average of this first five seasons (3.61) and he's 23d among NFL tight ends with more than 30 targets.
A few more deep passes could increase Ertz's YAC numbers. He's caught 5 of 5 passes over 20 yards for 134 yards. Last season, he caught 7 of 11 deep targets for 209 yards. He's had success with this route – an out-go double move – the last few years.
Ertz has made strides as a blocker, but it can still be a struggle, particularly when he's asked to take on defensive ends one on one.
Having Goedert has offset the loss of Brent Celek. When the Eagles drafted Ertz in 2013, Celek was entering his seventh season. The two coexisted for five seasons, but Celek's role as a receiver decreased with each season.
Ertz's role is unlikely to change much with Goedert. He's apparently just hitting his peak. Goedert (21 catches for 221 yards and three touchdowns) has great potential, but there's no reason why the Eagles can't make each focal points of the offense moving forward.
Ertz is under contract through 2021. He restructured his contract this past offseason and his cap number jumps significantly from just under $5 million to just under $12 million next year. He's worth every penny and it may be only a matter of time before he receives his second extension from the Eagles.