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September 29, 2017

Eagles Mailbag: Can Zach Ertz lead all tight ends in receiving this season?

In our weekly Eagles chat on Thursday, there were a lot of questions that we could not get to in time, or other questions we did answer but could use more color. And so, let's do a mailbag post to answer some of the overflow.

Question from PHIEAGLES: Which non-WR will have the most yards at the end of the year? Ertz, Gronk or someone else?

I was curious where Ertz ranked, league-wide, after reading this question, so I took a peek. Turns out he’s tied for fourth overall in the NFL in receptions, with 21, and 10th in yards, with 245. That’s good for first in the league among tight ends, who have generally gotten off to slow starts in 2017. Statistically so far this season, it’s Ertz and Gronk at the top, and then there's a big gap thereafter:

 PlayerRec Yards YPC TD 
 Zach Ertz, Eagles21 245 11.7 
 Rob Gronkowski, Patriots16 238 14.9 
 Delanie Walker, Titans15 168 11.2 
 Jason Witten, Cowboys18 159 8.8 
Travis Kelce, Chiefs14 144 10.3 

Ertz is on pace for 112 catches and 1307 yards. While he still has his frustrating quirks, Ertz is one of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL, and the Eagles' best weapon in the passing game right now.

Question from Phil: We have heard a lot about Wentz’s long-range accuracy (or lack thereof). You saw the man in training camp. Do you have any doubt in his ability to hit on those? What’s the issue? Timing with WRs?

Wentz's deep ball was one of the more positive things I observed from him in training camp, so his inaccuracy there so far this season has come as a surprise.

"When I look over the whole off-season and the way he's thrown the ball the whole off-season, particularly the deep ball in OTAs and training camp, to me he threw it exceeding well, not just good," said Frank Reich on Tuesday.

In his rookie season, Wentz threw some pretty deep balls, so the ability is there. The reasoning that was given for his two inaccurate deep throws in the Eagles' Week 1 win over the Redskins was that his plant foot slipped on the first one, leading to an underthrow, and then compensation for that on the second deep ball led to an overthrow.

Since then, his deep throws have only gotten worse. Personally, I have no idea what to make of it. It is something of a small sample size at this point in the season, but Wentz would ease some minds if he hit on a few very soon.

Question from cormeagles: Don’t the Eagles have to find a way to get Kendricks more snaps? Maybe stay in 4-3 base more often, especially with the secondary injuries?

Ultimately, the opposing offense dictates who will be on the field. If teams are coming out in three-WR sets, you have to get a nickel corner on the field to account for that, which means that a linebacker is coming off. Perhaps it makes sense for the Eagles to give Kendricks more opportunities in nickel sets, giving Nigel Bradham the occasional breather, but it's hard to defend 11 personnel with a base 4-3 look.

Question from Pragmatic: I have always supported Doug and his fourth-down calls, and this one time I disagree with one I now feel like a pariah?

Haha, not at all. I spoke with someone with the Eagles who has knowledge of the analytics on the play in question, and even they acknowledged that it was a “gray area” call. It wasn’t obvious to go for it like the two 4th and 1 calls that were successful, according to their system. All things factored in, within their system, it was equally justifiable to go for it, or not. Obviously, Doug chose to go for it, with the information he was given.

There is absolutely room for disagreement on the call. My personal contention with this situation has been the ridiculous over-the-top criticism of Pederson from people who have not even bothered to try to understand the logic or probability behind it.

Soon this national tragedy will be behind us. Until he goes for it on 4th and 4 from the 50 this week.

Question from Jeff: Philip Rivers in two games vs. the Eagles: 56 of 72 with a QB rating of 127. Not easy pickings for us.

Rivers is a very good quarterback who could very well pose problems for the Eagles’ defense. However, the last time he faced them in 2013, here was the Eagles’ starting defense that day:

LDE: Cedric Thornton
NT: Isaac Sopoaga
RDE: Fletcher Cox
LOLB: Connor Barwin
ILB: Mychal Kendricks
ILB: DeMeco Ryans
ROLB: Trent Cole
CB: Cary Williams
S: Nate Allen
S: Patrick Chung
CB: Brandon Boykin

The Eagles also ran a 3-4 read-and-react scheme under Billy Davis, which is pretty much the opposite of what they run under Jim Schwartz in his attack-style 4-3.

In other words, while Rivers is a dangerous quarterback who can shred you if he gets hot, but what he has done to the Eagles in the past is irrelevant.

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