Eagles tight ends carve up Cardinals

Zach Ertz scored the Birds' first TD.
Zach Ertz scored the Birds' first TD. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff)
Posted: December 03, 2013

Zach Ertz grasped the pass with both hands and touched his pair of black cleats inbounds. A two-handed shove from an Arizona defender sent the tight end spiraling out of the end zone.

It was the rookie's second career touchdown and the 6-yard strike was nearly perfect, giving the Eagles a first-quarter lead in Sunday's 24-21 win. The lone flaw was the photograph of tight end James Casey - not Ertz - that flashed across the stadium's pair of 96-foot-wide jumbotrons.

Ertz and Brent Celek combined for 97 receiving yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles targeted the league's worst defense against tight ends. Arizona entered Sunday yielding an average of 85.9 yards per game to the position, and the Eagles often attacked out of two tight end sets.

When studying the Cardinals defense, Ertz said he noticed that the team often covered opposing tight ends with just a safety.

"And we think that against any safety that we can win and get open," said Ertz, who finished with a career-high 68 yards and a pair of touchdowns and hauled in five of his six targets.

Celek caught a touchdown just before halftime and said the tight ends knew they were in for a big day. Nick Foles threw his first five passes to either Ertz or Celek and did not target a wide receiver until the second quarter.

"We feel like we have three [tight ends] that are talented," said head coach Chip Kelly. "And when the matchups present themselves, we can exploit it."

Casey went without a catch, but it was the holding call he drew with 1 minute, 42 seconds left that sealed the win. Kelly signaled the same play-action call that earned Ertz a touchdown in the first quarter. But Casey was grabbed before he could get open in the flat.

Casey said he felt Matt Shaughnessy tug his collar, and when he looked down his jersey was tangled up. The Eagles earned a first down, and Foles took a knee three times to end the game.

Shaughnessy, a linebacker, disagreed with the call and said he should have been rewarded with a sack. Before the next play, linebacker Daryl Washington was tagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing with the referee.

The Cardinals "were mad about it of course," said Casey. "Because they knew the game was over at that point, so they're going to be angry about it. But it is what it is."

Ertz's five catches were three more than he had over the last two games combined. He went home to California during the bye week and ate an early Thanksgiving dinner last Sunday with his family. Kelly said Ertz returned to the team rejuvenated with "fresh legs."

And Ertz looked fresh in the third quarter as he caught a pass near the goal line, battered his way forward, and dove into the end zone to give the Eagles a 17-point lead.

This time, it was Ertz's photograph that flashed on the scoreboard as he spiked the ball into the turf.


mbreen@phillynews.com

@matt_breen

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