Why Zach Ertz Caught Just One Pass vs. Washington
Carson Wentz only threw the ball 21 times in the Eagles’ 27-20 loss to Washington, but when you have a tight end you agreed to pay a reported $42.5 million over five years just nine months prior, you’d expect him to produce more than Zach Ertz did on Sunday.
Ertz recorded just one catch (his worst mark since Week 13 of 2014) for 22 yards on three targets (his lowest total since Week 4 of 2015) as the Birds struggled to get one of the main focal points of their offense involved.
“There were plays where Carson, based on the progression and the read, could have thrown him the ball a couple of times,” Doug Pederson said. “You’ve got one football and we ask Carson to go through his reads. If (Ertz) is the guy, he’s the guy. But (Ertz) is a big part of the offense and we’ve got to continue and I’ve got to continue with [offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich] and the guys to still figure out and find ways to get him open and get him the ball.”
A review of Sunday’s game film reveals several missed opportunities for Wentz to connect with Ertz, and perhaps no play better exemplifies why the tight end was barely noticeable than the Eagles’ first offensive snap of the game. Some speculated Ertz was negatively affected by Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s first NFL game as Ertz had to chip the defensive end several times. Although Ertz did chip a defensive end before running his route on five out of 21 passing plays he was on the field for — excluding run-pass options and screens — he only helped Vaitai once, as he chipped Jason Peters’ man four times.
But Ertz did miss out on multiple opportunities because of pressure the Eagles’ front allowed, including the opening play when Wentz was sacked. The Eagles ran a play-action fake while Ertz ran wide open on a 15-yard curl, but Brent Celek gave up a sack to Ryan Kerrigan.
On another play, Wentz faced pressure up the middle, which forced him to get rid of the ball to one of his early reads. Instead of being able to wait and go through his progression to find Ertz wide open over the middle, the rookie quarterback targeted Nelson Agholor — who was just three yards down field — on third-and-9, a ball that fell incomplete.
Other times, Wentz did have adequate pass protection, but he took too long to locate Ertz in his progression. On the Eagles’ crucial second-and-6 late in the fourth quarter when they were down just seven points, Wentz took a sack, which set up third-and-15. Wentz took another sack on third down, and the Eagles never got the ball back.
But on the initial sack, Wentz had plenty of time and a wide open Ertz underneath.
“On the second-and-6, that was a play designed to get the ball down the field. He had an opportunity — Zach Ertz was the guy underneath,” Pederson said. “That’s the thing about just understanding situational football. These are the things with young quarterbacks that sometimes you kind of lose sight of in the heat of the battle. Carson understands that and he knows that.”
Of course, Ertz also had one significant opportunity he simply didn’t take advantage of. On the Eagles’ final scoring drive in the middle of the fourth quarter, he dropped a potential touchdown pass on third-and-goal from Washington’s 9-yard-line. Wentz should’ve thrown the ball lower and in front of his tight end, but it’s a catch Ertz should make.
“If it’s near me,” Ertz told reporters after the game, “I think I should catch everything.”
After the game, Wentz attributed the lack of tight end targets to the offense’s inability to get into a rhythm.
“It’s just one of those things, like I said, I don’t know how many snaps we had the first half. We weren’t really on the field much so it was tough, but by no means was that a part of the game plan to stay away from them or anything. That’s kind of how it worked,” Wentz said.
“I don’t think the offense was real different, I think it was just tough for us to get in the groove today. It didn’t feel like we were in sync very well, especially in the first half. The flow of the game was weird. We had the three straight defensive drives with the kick return and the pick six, so we never really got into the rhythm offensively.”