Ertz gaining traction in Eagles' offense

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Zach Ertz is becoming a more vital piece of the Eagles' offense.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Zach Ertz is becoming a more vital piece of the Eagles' offense.
Posted: October 11, 2013

SOON, VERY, very soon, Zach Ertz is going to become a major player in Chip Kelly's offense.

Ertz has played only 114 offensive snaps in the Eagles' first five games and has only seven receptions. But the star potential of the 6-5, 250-pound rookie tight end jumps off the film at you every time you watch him.

He has made the most of those seven catches, converting every one of them into first downs. Only DeSean Jackson (24) and Jason Avant (nine) have more receiving first downs, and they've played considerably more snaps than Ertz. He is averaging an impressive 21.4 yards per catch, with four catches of 24 yards or more.

"I'm getting more and more comfortable every week," Ertz said. "Getting a grasp for how this league is played. The first couple of games were hard. I had a shoulder injury at the beginning of [training] camp. Ever since then, each week, I've progressed, which was kind of my goal."

A lot of people have wondered why Ertz, whom the Eagles selected with the 35th overall pick in the April draft, hasn't been out on the field more in the first five games.

With Jeremy Maclin out for the season with a torn ACL, the Eagles don't really have a second reliable receiving option to DeSean Jackson. As we saw in the Eagles' losses to Kansas City and Denver, when a defense is able to take Jackson out of the game, there isn't a real good Plan B, aside from handing the ball off more to LeSean McCoy.

Riley Cooper has been on the field for 92.7 percent of the Eagles' offensive plays, but has been targeted only 19 times and has only eight catches and four first downs, though he does have one of the team's three touchdown catches in the red zone.

Avant has had three straight 50-catch seasons. But defensive coordinators don't lie awake at night worrying how they're going to stop him. Same with the Eagles' starting tight end, Brent Celek.

But Ertz is different, which is why he was drafted so high. His unique combination of size, speed and route-running ability will give defenses Jimmy Graham-like matchup fits.

"I think Zach has continued to develop a little bit," Kelly said. "We've seen more and more from him on a weekly basis here as he starts to continue to grasp what we are doing here."

Despite keeping four tight ends on his roster, despite signing free agent James Casey and drafting Ertz, Kelly so far has used very few multiple-tight-end personnel groupings.

Eighty-two percent of their offensive plays have been run with "11" personnel (1 back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers). They've used 12 personnel (2 tight ends) only 59 times in the first five games. When they've gone with two tight ends, Ertz has teamed with Celek. The last couple of games, he also has been rotating with Celek in 11 personnel sets.

"I thought in the beginning that there was going to be a lot of 12 and 13 [3 tight ends] personnel," Ertz said. "But right now, it's been mostly 11 personnel."

Kelly is slowly but surely expanding Ertz' role. He played a season-high 33 snaps last week against the Giants. Probably will play more Sunday with the Bucs' All-Pro cornerback, Darrelle Revis, expected to shadow Jackson all over the field.

"I expect him to grow. But he's just [five games] into his professional football career," Kelly said.

"To expect him to run around and line up all over the place like Jimmy Graham, I don't think anybody envisioned that as we put together an offense and start to figure out what he's good at, what he's not good at.

"To say, 'Hey, you've gotten a few snaps at tight end, now let's put you out at split end and now let's take you and put you in the slot,' that's a lot easier said than done. To get all the little nuances of how to do the little things when you're running a shallow crossing route, if all of a sudden the front-side linebacker drops you, but the backside linebacker picks you up man-to-man, how you can stick and avoid and get across the field [takes time].

"There's a lot of details in doing it. It's not as easy as saying, 'Hey, we drafted this guy and he's got the ability.' Yeah, he does. But I also think we have to get him settled. We have to make sure that we all as a group understand that everybody here, you have to walk before you can run.

"There's a lot of big plans that you can do with Zach and that we can do with this entire offense. But it's going to come in a process. It's not going to come with all of a sudden tomorrow we are going to come up with 17 different ways where we can deploy Zach and put him in different situations, because it's not fair to him."

Figuring the Eagles 

* Michael Vick has completed only five of 19 passes in the red zone this season. Since becoming the Eagles' starter in 2010, Vick has a 49.5 red-zone completion percentage and has averaged a touchdown pass every 15.1 attempts and an interception every 28.0 attempts inside the 20. In the eight games that Nick Foles has played, he has a 36.4 red-zone completion percentage (12-for-33) and has averaged a touchdown every 5.5 attempts. He hasn't thrown an interception in the red zone yet. A look at how Vick's red-zone numbers stack up against the league's top quarterbacks since 2010:

TD Int. Cmp.

Rate Rate Pct.

P. Manning. . . 1/2.8 1/99.5 61.8

A. Rodgers. . . 1/3.1 1/91.3 64.6

T. Brady. . . 1/3.3 1/64.0 58.4

D. Brees. . . 1/3.6 1/48.9 61.7

T. Romo. . . 1/3.8 1/63.0 56.1

P. Rivers. . . 1/3.9 1/29.5 55.9

J. Cutler. . . 1/4.0 1/43.2 50.3

M. Stafford. . . 1/4.0 1/29.6 50.6

J. Flacco. . . 1/4.2 1/54.7 46.6

E. Manning. . . 1/4.2 1/27.9 50.2

Roethlisberger. . . 1/4.3 1/53.2 53.0

Vick. . . 1/15.1 1/28.0 49.5

* The Eagles have had 14 touchdown drives in the first five games. Only two of them have lasted longer than 2 minutes, 10 seconds. Four have lasted less than 35 seconds.

* In their last 37 games, the Eagles have turned the ball over 18 times and had two punts blocked on the first and second possessions of the game.

* Eagles cornerback Cary Williams has the third highest passes-defensed total in the league since 2010, with 40. Only the Seahawks' Richard Sherman and the Packers' Tramon Williams have more.

* Chip Kelly is 0-for-3 on replay challenges in the first five games. The last 4 years, Andy Reid was 21-for-38. The 4 years before that, he was 7-for-29.

* With 77 plays against the Giants, the Eagles have jumped from 10th to seventh in plays-per-game (68.8). The six teams ahead of them and their records:

Texans. . . 74.6 2-3

Bills. . . 72.6 2-3

Broncos. . . 71.4 5-0

Ravens. . . 70.4 3-2

Patriots. . . 69.4 4-1

Browns. . . 69.0 3-2

* The Eagles have converted 78.3 percent of their third downs of 3 yards or less (18 of 23). Last year, they converted only 55.1 percent (27 of 49).

* A breakdown of LeSean McCoy's league-leading 514 rushing yards:

BY QUARTER

Att. Yds. Avg.

1st Qtr.. . . 34 153 4.5

2nd Qtr.. . . 29 161 5.5

3rd Qtr.. . . 20 123 6.1

4th Qtr.. . . 15 77 5.1

BY DOWN

1st Down. . . 52 254 4.9

2nd Down. . . 32 202 6.3

3rd Down. . . 13 54 4.1

4th Down. . . 1 4 4.0

BY FORMATION

11 personnel. . . 79 463 5.9

12 personnel. . . 19 51 2.7

BY DIRECTION

Left. . . 36 206 5.7

Middle. . . 30 169 5.6

Right. . . 32 139 4.3

Running with the Bucs

Greg Schiano favors smash-mouth football. Likes to run the ball. A lot.

"We're a team that believes in the run," the Bucs coach said. "So we're going to run the football."

How well the Eagles stop them from doing that will go a long way in determining the outcome of Sunday's game.

With rookie Mike Glennon making only his second NFL start at quarterback, Schiano and the Bucs will lean heavily on second-year running back Doug Martin. Which is nothing new.

Martin, who rushed for 1,454 yards as a rookie last year, is averaging a league-high 25 rushing attempts per game this season, but only 3.4 yards per carry.

The Eagles have done a pretty good job against the run this season, holding opponents to a respectable 3.9 yards per carry. They've allowed only 12 double-digit-yard runs (10 by running backs), none longer than 20.

"They're going to run the ball a lot Sunday," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "We know that. We've got to man up and stop them."

'Hard Knocks' life

The NFL announced this week that, starting next year, if it can't find any volunteers for HBO's popular "Hard Knocks" show, it will select a team. The announcement didn't go over very well with many of the league's coaches, including the Cardinals' Bruce Arians. "I think it's a total distraction, and I think it's an embarrassment to players," Arians said of the NFL Films-produced show that follows a team through training camp. "I think when players are released, some of the things that are said between coaches and players are too personal, and nobody else's business."

Interestingly, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who usually isn't in favor of anything except scowling, wasn't totally opposed to the idea of having his team appear on "Hard Knocks."

"[The show] seems like a popular thing and something people want to see," Harbaugh said. "I don't see it going away. You could stamp your feet and say I don't want to do it. But I don't know how productive that is for anybody concerned.

"You might have people a year from now, some team that's on 'Hard Knocks' wins the Super Bowl and then everybody's going to be, 'Why can't we be on 'Hard Knocks?' It's an advantage to be on 'Hard Knocks.' "

2-minute drill

From the lip

* "I honestly believe he's trying so hard to get us a win he's almost put too much on himself. He keeps it all pretty much inside. I'm not making excuses. There were a couple of those plays that were terrible." — Giants coach Tom Coughlin on struggling QB Eli Manning after his three-interception performance in loss to Eagles

* "We've been kind of down on getting turnovers and sometimes things just start breaking right for you. Kind of like an olive jar. You open up a can of olives and turn it over and no olives come out because they're packed in there so darn tight. But if you just get one to come out, pluck just one out, then they're just flying out of the jar." — 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on how turnovers come in bunches

* "There was no success there, but anything you say about it sounds like any excuse, and I'm not about excuses. They're reasons after the fact. What can you say? You're better off saying nothing. They're my mistakes. I didn't pick the right guys." — Matt Millen on his disastrous tenure as the Lions GM

* "He played one of the most sensational games I've ever seen. It makes no sense. Those people who blame him, I don't know, they ought to take a look at their lives."

— Former Cowboys QB Roger Staubach on the people who blamed Tony Romo for the 51-48 loss to the Broncos despite his 506-yard, five-touchdown performance

By the numbers

* 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick has completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in three of last four games.

* Tom Brady had his streak of 52 games with at least one TD pass snapped in the Patriots' 13-6 loss to the Bengals.

* The Broncos have scored 230 points already. That's the most by a team through the first five games.

* The Colts have held their opponent scoreless in the fourth quarter in four straight games and only allowed seven fourth-quarter points in five games.

* The Cardinals have pitched second-half shutouts in their last two games. Of their opponents' 13 second-half possessions in those two games, they had four interceptions, recovered two fumbles, recorded a safety and forced six punts.

* Pencil the Broncos, Chiefs and Saints in the playoffs. Since 1990, 36 of the 40 teams to start 5-0 made the postseason.

This and that

* Online oddsmaker Bovada has the Cowboys as the favorite to win the NFC East right now at 6/5. Eagles are second at 2/1. Redskins are third at 5/2 and Giants are fourth at 12/1.

* History says teams with poor red-zone offenses usually don't have much of a chance of making the playoffs. Over the last 5 years, just four teams have qualified for the playoffs with a red-zone success rate below 45 percent. So how do you explain the fact that the 5-0 Saints currently are 29th in the league in red-zone offense (42.1) and the 4-1 Patriots are a pitiful 31st (35.3), one spot ahead of the Eagles? Said Saints coach Sean Payton: "Both teams play good defense, [have good] time of possession, third down [conversation rate]. Those are some of the other statistics that we factor in. But I would say certainly that both teams want to be better in that [red zone] area."

 * The Saints are first in the league in time of possession (34:37). Payton puts a little more importance on time of possession than Chip Kelly. "Time of possession is a team stat," he said. "It's offense, defense, special teams. That's showing we're winning as a team ... I think you can have ultimately a zero day, which a loss is, but by the same token have improved the promise ahead."

Domo's rankings (through Monday)

1 Broncos 5-0 (1 last week)

2 Chiefs 5-0 (4)

3 Saints 5-0 (5)

4 Colts 4-1 (6)

5 Seahawks 4-1 (2)

6 49ers 3-2 (7)

7 Patriots 4-1 (3)

8 Packers 2-2 (13)

9 Bengals 3-2 (14)

10 Lions 3-2 (8)

11 Bears 3-2 (9)

12 Titans 3-2 (10)

13 Ravens 3-2 (15)

14 Dolphins 3-2 (11)

15 Cardinals 3-2 (19)

16 Cowboys 2-3 (18)

17 Texans 2-3 (12)

18 Browns 3-2 (21)

19 Jets 3-2 (23)

20 Eagles 2-3 (22)

21 Falcons 1-4 (16)

22 Chargers 2-3 (17)

23 Bills 2-3 (20)

24 Vikings 2-2 (24)

25 Raiders 2-3 (30)

26 Panthers 1-3 (25)

27 Redskins 1-3 (26)

28 Rams 2-3 (27)

29 Steelers 0-4 (28)

30 Giants 0-5 (29)

31 Bucs 0-4 (31)

32 Jaguars 0-5 (32)


Email: pdomo@aol.com

On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

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