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November 01, 2016

Eagles need Zach Ertz to start playing like a tight end

Eagles NFL
110116ZachErtz Michael Perez/AP

Zach Ertz has zero broken tackles this season.

Before the season 2016 began, we pointed out that Zach Ertz was one of just 20 tight ends in NFL history to accumulate over 2,000 receiving yards in his first three seasons in the pros. As a reminder, here is the list of tight ends to achieve that mark:

Mike DitkaBears173277425
Rob GronkowskiPatriots187266338
Jimmy GrahamSaints215264825
Kellen WinslowChargers202262021
Antonio GatesChargers194245425
Dave KocourekChargers13424059
Mark BavaroGiants158237916
Charle YoungEagles167220912
Keith JacksonEagles194218715
Dan RossBengals168215010
Bob TuckerGiants154212613
Jeremy ShockeyGiants183209510
Jason WittenCowboys188208413
Walter WhiteChiefs118204115
Kellen WinslowBrowns17620318
Zach MillerRaiders16620277
Zach ErtzEagles16920249

Each year since his rookie season, Ertz has been a popular player to have a "breakout season," and yet, despite the impressive numbers noted above, it does not really feel like that has quite happened just yet.

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Ertz's start to the 2016 season has been slow. He missed two games with a dislocated rib near his shoulder, however, in the five games he has played, he has just 15 catches for 150 yards and no touchdowns. That would be an average of three catches for 30 yards per game.

While Ertz's basic stats are falling short of expectations, they are not as alarming as what he does after he makes the catch. On Ertz's 15 receptions, he is averaging a paltry 2.3 yards after the catch, which is 40th in the NFL out of 41 tight ends with at least 10 receptions.

Name Team Rec YAC avg
Rob Gronkowski Patriots 22 10.0
Martellus Bennett Patriots 31 8.7
Marcedes Lewis Jaguars 13 6.8
Hunter Henry Chargers 22 6.8
Austin Hooper Falcons 11 6.6
Vernon Davis Redskins 23 6.3
Travis Kelce Chiefs 34 6.0
Tyler Eifert Bengals 10 5.7
Greg Olsen Panthers 40 5.7
Delanie Walker Titans 28 5.4
Lance Kendricks Rams 25 5.2
Trey Burton Eagles 10 4.7
C.J. Uzomah Bengals 17 4.7
Coby Fleener Saints 25 4.6
Jimmy Graham Seahawks 30 4.6
Clive Walford Raiders 19 4.6
Gary Barnidge Browns 33 4.4
Virgil Green Broncos 14 4.4
Jacob Tamme Falcons 22 4.4
Jordan Reed Redskins 42 4.2
C.J. Fiedorowicz Texans 26 4.0
Ryan Griffin Texans 24 4.0
Will Tye Giants 18 3.9
Jason Witten Cowboys 30 3.8
Dennis Pitta Ravens 38 3.7
Jack Doyle Colts 31 3.7
Garrett Celek 49ers 12 3.6
Zach Miller Bears 40 3.6
Julius Thomas Jaguars 19 3.4
Charles Clay Bills 26 3.4
Demetrius Harris Chiefs 10 3.3
Eric Ebron Lions 25 3.2
Tyler Kroft Bengals 10 3.1
Dwayne Allen Colts 18 3.1
Jermaine Gresham Cardinals 11 3.0
Antonio Gates Chargers 21 2.7
Kyle Rudolph Vikings 31 2.7
Larry Donnell Giants 15 2.5
Jesse James Steelers 22 2.4
Zach Ertz Eagles 15 2.3
Cameron Brate Buccaneers 23 2.0

But even more alarming than Ertz's yards after catch average is the actual film behind it. After taking a look at all of Ertz's 15 receptions, he does not yet have a single broken tackle this season. Worse, he has gone to the ground ON HIS OWN five times.

In chronological order:

• Here Ertz goes down on his own in front of two defensive backs. This was his third-longest gain after the catch on the season. (Seriously).

• This one is somewhat understandable, as Ertz catches the ball on a comeback route, and gets the first down rather than trying to avoid the defender and potentially losing yardage. 

• He has no such excuse on this one, however, as he simply belly-flops at the sight of the linebacker:

• Here, again, he simply goes to the ground on his own in between two defensive backs:

• And finally, yet again, Ertz makes it easy on a defensive back as he's already on his way down before contact gets there:

Compare that with another Eagles tight end Brent Celek, who has played in 156 games in his career, and has missed just one. On this one catch and run against the Steelers, Celek had more broken tackles and roughly half the yards after the catch that Ertz has had all season.

Poor tackling has become an epidemic in the NFL in recent years. It's bad enough if you're a smaller guy making it easy on defenders. It's simply not acceptable when you're a 6'5, 250-pound tight end.

"My number is just not being called right now," said Ertz after the Eagles-Cowboys game Sunday night. "I'll never second-guess the coaches. I'll never second-guess Carson. That's just the way the games have gone. Obviously, you want to be involved each and every play. But that's not really the case right now."

Nor should it be.

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