Eagles’ Tight Ends Not Being Used As Expected

Zach ErtzThe tight end position was expected to be a major component of the Chip Kelly offense. All signs pointed in this direction.

He moved quickly to sign free-agent James Casey to a three-year, $12 million deal, then used the 35th overall pick in April’s draft on Zach Ertz. He spoke of using three tight-end sets to “smash” the opponent. Even introduced a four tight-end look this preseason.

It is a surprise, then, how little Kelly has featured his tight ends through three games.

The Eagles have been going predominantly with their ’11’ personnel:  one running back, one tight end and three receivers. This past week  against the Chiefs, they were in that personnel for 53 of the 63 snaps, and showed a two tight-end look on only eight occasions. Casey was on the field for just one play.

And that has been the norm.  Casey has seen just eight of a possible 213 snaps this season. Ertz has been on the field for 54 plays, or 25 percent of the time.

“A lot of times in terms of playing multiple tight ends, it depends on what you want to face,” said Kelly. “If you go smaller, they go smaller, hopefully we can get some favorable matchups in that situation.

“It’s not something that Casey is not doing.  It’s a coaching decision that we feel comfortable in 11-personnel at times and 10-personnel at times.”

When Kelly talks about “favorable matchups” he could very well mean in the running game. One of the advantages of using  multiple tight-end sets is the edge it provides on run plays when the defense is in a nickel package; the bigger tight end has a good chance of successfully blocking the smaller defensive back.

But the Eagles are doing just fine in the running game without an extra tight end on the field. LeSean McCoy is the top rusher in the league, and the Eagles are No. 1 in rushing as a team, averaging 209 yards per game.

“If you’re able to run with ’11’ personnel in the game, why not put more speed out on the perimeter?” Jason Kelce explained.

With the Eagles using mainly just one tight end, there are obviously fewer snaps to go around. And the bulk of them have gone to Brent Celek. The seven-year veteran has been on the field for 88 percent of the offensive plays so far.

“The one guy that has really stepped up throughout anybody on our offensive team has been Brent Celek,” said Kelly.  “I think Brent has done an outstanding job. He’s really practiced at a real high level since camp.  When you see him on the sideline and you see how fresh he is, I know he’s a little bit of an older player in this team, but when I look at Brent on the sideline, I don’t know if we have a fresher guy.  That’s a credit to him, the conditioning he’s done.”

Celek hasn’t been a major part of the receiving game thus far, totaling four catches for 74 yards and a score. Ertz, despite fewer opportunities, also has four catches for 74 yards. Kelly views Celek as the most complete tight end on the roster, hence why he gets most of the playing time.

So far, it’s been a lot of Celek, a little bit of Ertz and almost no Casey. But that could change as the season goes on.

“I think you’re seeing a lot of it right now. I don’t know necessarily that we’re going to be in ’11’ personnel all year,” said Kelce. “I think a lot of it is based upon what the defense is giving and what we feel we can take advantage of.”