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October 01, 2017

The Zach Ertz breakout season you've all been waiting for has finally arrived

And not just because he's been one of the most productive receivers in the NFL though the first quarter of the season

Following the Eagles’ 26-24 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, one of the first questions asked of head coach Doug Pederson was about LeGarrette Blount’s success the last two weeks after a slow start to the season that saw him finish Week 2 without any carries out of the backfield.

“That’s two weeks in a row that [Blount’s] done a great job. [He’s a] big guy. At the end of the game, you saw the long run. So I don’t think he has anything to prove. He’s the guy that we knew, that I knew, we were getting back in the spring.”

Now, it seems, fans finally know as well. 

But the follow-up question posed to Pederson, which was specific to his big 68-yard run on Sunday that set up their second touchdown of the day and proved to be the deciding score in the game, elicited an interesting response from Pederson and highlighted something that won’t show up on the stat sheet – but something that played a crucial role as the Birds improved to 3-1 on the season while running the ball more often than they threw it.

Did you see it? Because Doug did… 

“The biggest thing [on that play] was the back-side tight end, Zach Ertz, made a big block to spring him,” he said. “And [Blount's] so big and powerful late in the game when defenders can sometimes be a little more fatigued and tired. He just runs through tackles. But it was well blocked – a great run.”

A block like that, especially given when it happened, would be enough for some tight ends. But not Ertz.

This year, he’s been more of a receiver than ever before, even lining up on the outside at times. And while he’s caught plenty of passes and amassed thousands of receiving yards in his career – 3,166 to be exact – he’s never been this productive. Not this early in the season, anyway.

Ertz finished Sunday’s game with five catches (on eight targets) for 81 yards, including this 38-yarder in the third quarter.

On the season, that puts Ertz up to 326 yards on 26 catches. Those numbers are both in the top five in the NFL – and that includes wide receivers. His 26 catches are tied with Larry Fitzgerald for third and his 326 yards are good for fifth in the league. He's also caught 72.2 percent of the passes thrown his way, the second highest number among receivers in the top 10 in yards.

Among just tight ends, Ertz is first in receptions and yards, just ahead of Rob Gronkowski (20 rec, 318 yds). 

Here's a look at the top 10, ranked by receiving yards:

1Stefon DiggsMIN3222391
2Antonio BrownPIT4530388
3Adam ThielenMIN3224358
4Keenan AllenLAC4024334
5Zach Ertz*PHI3626326
6Rob Gronkowski*NWE3020318
7A.J. GreenCIN3825315
8DeAndre HopkinsHOU4931311
9Michael ThomasNOR3725310
10Julio JonesATL3019295
*Tight end

Those who have been following Ertz’s career closely – even those skeptical of the annual preseason this-will-be-the-year-Ertz-actually-breaks-out pronouncements – know that the fifth-year tight end has great pass-catching ability. And given the loss of Jordan Matthews in the slot, plus the fact that Brent Celek is another year older, the production from Ertz shouldn’t be that surprising.

RELATED: Mailbag: Can Ertz lead all TEs in receiving this season?

It's also worth noting that Ertz has now played more games with Wentz (20) than any other quarterback since being drafted 35th overall out of Stanford back in 2013.

However, after injuries cost him time in each of his first three seasons – not to mention seeing plays like the one below last year – you wouldn’t have been in the wrong to question his ability (and willingness) to block.

That doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore.

Sunday was a good day for Eagles running backs, playing in their first game since losing Darren Sproles for the season, as they ran for 200 yards in the win (and added another 65 through the air), but the biggest game belonged to their biggest back.

Blount backed up his 12-carry, 67-yard performance against the Giants with a 16-carry, 136-yard outburst against the Chargers that included five plays of 10 or more yards, four on the ground and one through the air. 

With a tight end who is athletic enough to stretch the field, but big enough to block opposing linebackers and defensive ends, you can likely expect more big plays from the Eagles rushers. Assuming, of course, Pederson stays as committed to the run as he did against the Chargers. 

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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