Unraveling the Mystery of Zach Ertz and His Diminishing Impact
PHILADELPHIA – No need to be Sherlock Holmes to identify the greatest mystery to this Eagles season. That, of course, would be the vanishing of tight Zach Ertz.
His 145 yards receiving through five games is the lowest total of his career. Even as a rookie in 2013 he had 150 yards receiving after five games and that was with Brent Celek entrenched at tight end.
Like good detectives, reporters went looking for clues as to what’s up during Ertz’s 11-plus minutes of time answering questions on Zoom prior to Thursday’s practice.
Two things Ertz himself ruled out:
The lack of a contract extension and the absence of his tight end running mate, Dallas Goedert, who broke an ankle in Week 3.
Ertz didn’t want to talk about the lack of a new deal, saying, “I’m not worried about that. Whatever happen, happens at this point," but said it doesn't enter his mind, like, ever.
As for Goedert, Ertz said, “Obviously, I miss playing with him. He’s a phenomenal player. ... I don’t think that’s the reason. I just think it’s the way it’s gone.”
Looking from clues from teammates was fruitless, though the effort was made.
“As a teammate, I would never come out and say one of my teammates is struggling or showing bad energy,” said Fletcher Cox, a teammate of Ertz since Ertz arrived eight seasons ago. “I think the biggest thing is Zach, he’s Zach. I talk to Zach every day before practice, during warmups in practice. His locker is right behind mine ... Zach is being himself. I think he’s in a good spot. He’ll be alright.”
It’s not like Ertz hasn’t had his chances. He has been targeted 35 times but has made just 20 catches, suggesting that the chemistry between he and quarterback Carson Wentz has short-circuited.
“I don’t think it’s one person’s fault,” said Ertz. “I’m not going to sit here and say Carson is missing me all the time. There are times I have to be better. It’s plain and simple. All I can focus on is controlling what I can control and that’s how hard I’m going to work each and every day. No one is going to outwork me whether it be here or anywhere else.”
Whoa, hold on just a minute there: Anywhere else?
Maybe he meant in the community or at life in general. Or maybe he sees the handwriting on the wall and that is his days as an Eagle are numbered.
They certainly seem to be.
It’s written all over the body language Ertz displays in game, a visual unhappiness that makes him look as if he is re-signed to his fate.
“Frustration boils over when you don’t win football games,” said Ertz. “That’s what I get frustrated about. If we were 5-0 right now and I had the same stats there would be nothing to talk about, I wouldn’t care at all.
“But I think I can help the team win. I think I can make plays for this team on third and in the red zone like I have in the past and hopefully try to find a way to win a football game.”
Whoa again: I think I can help the team win?
That sounds almost like a plea to give him a chance to do so, because, right now, it doesn’t feel like Ertz is a big part of the game plan anymore, as if the Eagles are phasing him out.
That right there might be the answer to the mystery.
The party line espoused from head coach Doug Pederson is that defenses are paying more attention to Ertz. Looking closer at the coaches’ film doesn’t seem to indicate that.
It’s not like he’s being triple-teamed. Ertz is being covered by the opponent’s best cornerback and maybe they keep a linebacker in the vicinity or bracket him with two defenders, but none of this is new, Buddy Ryan 46 defense type of stuff.
“I’ve seen a lot of different coverages,” said Ertz, “no different than a lot of other years honestly.”
You might say, well, 35 targets are a lot and they are. For anyone else but Ertz it is.
He had 54 targets last year through five games and 67 in 2018.
That is a game plan issue more than it is some great, innovative, Buddy Ryan-like 46 defense.
Ertz may look like he’s checked out, but he is still all-in on trying to find a way to win.
If he said it once, he said it a dozen times on Thursday: “I’m trying to win football games.”
The Eagles tight end doesn’t care if he catches one pass or 10 as long as the game ends with a ‘W.’
Ertz has been the mountain top with the Eagles, winning the Super Bowl in 2017, and has climbed the highest heights as an individual, setting the NFL record for most receptions by a tight end with 116 in 2018.
“This is Year 8 for me now, I have a lot of stats,” he said. “The year we won the Super Bowl was a lot more fun than the year I broke the record for catches. For me it’s trying to find a way to win a football game because it’s a lot more fun to be in this building after a win than it is after a loss regardless of how many catches you have.”
He almost sounds like he is begging, pleading for the chance to help make that happen, for the coaches to take the shackles off and free him.
Maybe Pederson would be wise to call him into his office this week and tell him to be ready, they are going his way against the Ravens on Sunday.
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