Matchups to Watch: Can The Giants Finally Contain Zach Ertz In 2020?
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz has done as much damage to the Giants as any other player in the league over the past three years.
Since 2017, Ertz has scored six touchdowns while averaging 56 receiving yards per game against the Giants.
Ertz has been the favorite target of Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz, and taking that option away from Wentz could go a long way in putting the breaks on the rest of the Eagles' offense.
Most recently, Ertz caught a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime of a Week-14 Monday Night thriller that sunk the Giants to a franchise-record ninth-straight defeat sparked the Eagles' run to their eventual NFC East title.
Ertz essentially kickstarted the Eagles' entire offense in the second quarter of that game with a pair of back-to-back catches for 24 and 30 yards, which led to Philadelphia's first field goal.
The Giants had two different players covering Ertz on those catches with linebackers Deone Buchanon and Alec Ogletree, neither of which are on the roster in 2020.
Seven different Giants players bore the responsibility of covering Ertz throughout the game. Ertz managed to get the best of most of the most matchups against players like Buchanon, Ogletree, linebacker David Mayo and safeties Antoine Bethea and Michael Thomas, who blew coverage on Ertz for the game-winning touchdown.
However, one player that did have modest success covering Ertz was rookie safety Julian Love. Love, playing in place of an injured Jabrill Peppers, was only credited with giving up one pass to Ertz and made the tackle for just a one-yard gain.
New Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham was able to neutralize Ertz a week earlier when the Eagles played the Dolphins using safeties with a similar skill set to Love in coverage.
Graham used Dolphins defensive backs Eric Rowe and Adrian Colbert to hold Ertz to just three catches for 24 yards in a 37-31 victory.
Now Graham takes over a Giants secondary with a lot of additional young talent to accompany Love. Graham will hopefully have a healthy Peppers when the Giants meet the Eagles in Weeks 7 & 10 of the 2020 season, and the Giants second-round pick safety Xavier McKinney out of Alabama.
Love is arguably the best safety the Giants have on their roster going into 2020. As a rookie, Love finished with a coverage grade of 84.5 by Pro Football Focus, the third-best coverage rating on the team among those Giants defenders targeted at least 30 times in the passing game.
Love's skillset will earn him many more matchups against Ertz in the future, but he will also have some help.
McKinney came through in his matchup assignments, covering tight ends in college. Before flipping his hips with clean transitions to work into the trail position, McKinney possesses the length to press or disrupt inside the contact window.
McKinney, Peppers, and Love could allow Graham to utilize a three-safety set to prevent Ertz and other tight ends from exploiting the middle of the field.
Meanwhile, Peppers took a step back in 2019 from the level he played in Cleveland but hopes to return to form in 2020 with a better supporting cast and a defensive scheme that better utilizes his skillset.
In the past three years, Ertz has had the privilege of facing a Giants defense that's seen its fair share of roster turnover in the secondary. The Giants have started six different safeties against the Eagles dating back to 2017.
In 2020 Peppers and Love will have the opportunity to build chemistry along with McKinney in Graham's defense. The Giants defense has lacked that young dependable safety core through their years of shuffling veteran journeymen in and out of the secondary.
Molding that continuity under Graham's scheme could finally give the Giants some security against tight ends like Ertz in 2020 and beyond. It's a dynamic that could have a direct impact on their success within the division.