Some Reasons Why Zach Ertz Struggles Early In The Season


Yesterday, the great Jim McCormick wrote an amazing article on why this season should be Zach Ertz’s breakout year. He backed it up with a variety of statistics to make a very convincing overall argument. Today, I am going to double-down and try to complement Jim’s piece from a different angle.

Full disclosure, I’ve been the unofficial driver of the Zach Ertz hype train for some time now [editor’s note: or engineer], but when the 2016 season ended, I was just as frustrated as everyone else. Ertz’s young career has been incredibly baffling. Each year, he is touted as the franchise’s next major offensive weapon, but only becomes that weapon once the Eagles are eliminated from playoff contention. Why?

Why does he only show up in December?

After the 2016 season was in the books, the Eagles released a video with Wentz mic’d up for sound for the final game of the season versus the Cowboys. Wentz threw two touchdowns to Ertz in that game. Towards the end of the video, we saw Wentz and Ertz interacting on the sideline.

My main takeaway from the video, aside from being jealous that Wentz, Ertz and Mike Trout don’t appear to need a fourth crew member, was that Wentz and Ertz seemed to have a really good rapport. They seem like legitimate friends, which helps explain their late-season chemistry. That chemistry wasn’t built overnight, though. It took almost a full season to develop, as it did in 2015 with Sam Bradford, 2014 with Mark Sanchez, and 2013 with Nick Foles. God it pains me to write that out into a complete sentence.

Including Michael Vick, Ertz has played with five different quarterbacks in his four seasons in the league. He has had to adapt to a new quarterback every year of his career. That is not insignificant. A tight end is arguably the most important player for a quarterback to be on the same page with. Many of their routes, or the depth of those routes, depend on the leverage or coverage of defenders. It is vital for quarterbacks and tight ends to make similar reads on those defenders and also understand how the other player will react to those reads. Again, not something that can happen overnight, particularly when both players are also learning a new offensive system, which they were in 2016.

In addition to all of that, Ertz has been hampered by injuries the past two years, which makes building that chemistry even more difficult. Even in the games where he was able to play through injury, he was obviously somewhat limited. I mean:

That actually sounds worse than I remember it being. No wonder he didn’t break out until December.

Side Note: Let’s give Ertz some credit. Playing through this kind of injury takes some serious balls. There is no way I’d play in an NFL game just three weeks removed from a fucking displaced rib in the collarbone area.

Mr. December

I get it. Naming the myriad reasons why Ertz only shows up in December doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Getting behind another breakout year for Ertz is an emotional rollercoaster. It’s tiring, and you probably just don’t care anymore.

Here is why you SHOULD care. When Ertz shows up in December, he doesn’t just show up, he fucking SHOWS UP! He walks onto the field wearing bells, gets piss drunk, charms the ladies, does a shot with Trout, and then heads off to the cool afterparty. He doesn’t just have a few good games, he dominates.

At one point over course of the offseason, as I was slowly talking myself back into Ertz, I wondered if his breakout Decembers were more legend than reality. Maybe all of the talk and jokes about his December production were inflating his actual production in our minds. So, I went back through his career, looking only at his late-season games to confirm that it was indeed everything we thought it was.

This is Ertz’s stat line for the 20 games he’s played in December throughout his career. I also added his per-game averages and then extrapolated those averages over a 16-game season.

For you fantasy football players, that would put Ertz squarely in Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce territory (at least in PPR formats). On the surface, that sounds crazy, but, to be honest, I don’t even think it’s too unrealistic. Sprinkled into that data set, among the huge 13 or 15 catch games, were eight games where Ertz had three or less catches, including one game with zero. It’s not as if we are relying on Ertz to produce on some crazy, Rhys Hoskins-level pace to make this a reality. This is what Ertz is capable of, if healthy, over the course of a season.

What has changed?

Everything. For starters, assuming Wentz stays healthy in 2017, Ertz will play a second season with the same quarterback for the first time in his career. There is also every reason to believe the two will pick up where they left off last year. Aside from Nelson Agholor, Ertz is the only familiar face for Wentz from last season’s receiver group. Familiarity will be key for Wentz, especially early on in the season.

Secondly, the Eagles’ offense actually has legitimate, NFL caliber receivers manning the outside now. Last season, Ertz and Jordan Matthews were the only receiving threats defenses had to focus on. This year, defenses won’t be able to just key on Ertz. Speaking of Matthews, Ertz’s major competition for middle of the field targets– he’s gone. Sure, Agholor will also play in the slot, but he is a completely different type of player than Matthews was and won’t necessarily be competing directly with Ertz for the same type of targets. Also, he might not be good.

It’s not just the changes to the receiver position. The addition of Legarrette Blount could also have a major impact on how defenses play the Eagles in the red zone. Imagine being a linebacker at the goal line and seeing Blount in the backfield. Do you sell out to stop the run or do you stay back in coverage to prevent a quick pass to Ertz? You only have one guess. That’s quite the conflict. Lastly, let’s not forget that Doug Pederson is the couch. This offense features its tight ends heavily, so the workload is definitely there for the taking.

If the fifth-year tight end can stay healthy, this WILL be his breakout season. So, hop back on board the Zach Ertz train, Jim and I will save you a seat.


4 Responses

  1. I’m psyched for the new fanatic lineup. Trust me, they really are phillys football station.

  2. Maybe Ertz in just not that good. Maybe Burton is better? Who knows…………it could be that simple.

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