Kelly’s TE Focus Pays Dividends

It didn’t take long to figure out Chip Kelly‘s offensive strategy against Arizona. Have a look at the play-by-play from the Eagles’ opening drive:

1st and 10 at AZ 25 N.Foles pass short left to B.Celek pushed ob at ARZ 22 for 3 yards.
2nd and 7 at AZ 22  N.Foles pass incomplete short left to B.Celek.
3rd and 7 at AZ 22 N.Foles pass short middle to B.Celek to ARZ 6 for 16 yards
1st and 6 at AZ 6 N.Foles pass short right to Z.Ertz for 6 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

See a pattern there?

“Yeah, we thought we would be used a little more in this game in particular because of the way they play their defense,” said rookie tight end Zach Ertz, who had a career day with five catches for 68 yards and two scores. “They put a lot of safeties on us in man-to-man coverage. We think that against any safety we can get open, and fortunately Nick [Foles] made some great throws today.”

Ertz and Brent Celek were targeted a total of 12 times Sunday and combined for nine catches and 97 yards. They accounted for all three of the Eagles’ touchdowns.

USATSI_7592694_168380503_lowres“I don’t know if exploit, but we thought they have got some really good corners, starting with [Patrick] Peterson, so trying to get [the tight ends] matched up on some safeties and some linebackers,” said Chip Kelly. “Just thought we had some plays in there to the tight ends, get them in base personnel and then try to take advantage of that and those guys did.”

That goes back to Kelly’s quote from back in April right after he drafted Ertz about the benefit of mutiple tight-end sets.

“They bring little guys in, you run the ball. They bring big guys in, you throw the ball.”

This was the type of offense most envisioned after Kelly drafted Ertz 35th overall and signed James Casey to a handsome free-agent contract. (Casey did not post a catch in this game, but did draw a big penalty in the closing moments to help seal the win.) We are beginning to see the Eagles use more two tight-end sets as Ertz continues to develop. The rookie was on the field for 38 snaps against Arizona, his second highest play total of the season (He played 42 snaps in Tampa).

“He is a great player and is going to continue to get better,” said Celek. “Every game you can just see him improve, improve, improve. He is going to be a great player in this league for a long time.”

Entering Sunday’s game, tight ends were averaging 84 yards per game against the Cardinals, per Football Outsiders. Only Denver (85 yards/gm) had been more generous. It’s no surprise that Kelly decided to attack one of the only vulnerabilities in that Cardinals defense, especially since he was equipped to do it from a personnel standpoint. This was a game where Kelly’s investment in the tight end position paid dividends.

“I felt like we had good matchups with our tight ends against [Arizona’s] linebackers,” said Foles. “Their linebackers are very talented, but they’re bigger guys. They are very good at stopping the run and they have a big defensive line that really wants to generate pressure. I liked our matchups with our tight ends, and I thought they did a great job today.”

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