Eagles

Zach Ertz continues to produce despite unfair perception about toughness

Zach Ertz continues to produce despite unfair perception about toughness

Zach Ertz caught eight passes Sunday and put his head down and thundered forward for as many yards as he could pick up after all eight receptions.

And if that's not good enough for you?

If you still have your mind made up that Ertz is soft? Even after missing just two games last year with a torn pectoral muscle?

There's not much anybody can say or do to prove you wrong.

"You always want to be aggressive and be physical and be smart," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Tuesday. "But I've played with a lot of great players who will step out of bounds rather than take a hit when they know they've got the first down.

"I mean, great players. Barry Sanders? He never took a hit on the sidelines. No one ever called him a coward.

"Sometimes you have to be smart, too."

If you haven't been paying attention, Ertz has been a different player since the Cincinnati game last year, when fans jumped all over him for a play near the sideline where he appeared to avoid contact.

"I remember after that Cincinnati game, there were multiple times of him being aggressive," Reich said. "It's always a fine line. There is a time [and place]."

Even though Ertz has been one of the most productive tight ends in NFL history through four seasons, he's never really gained widespread appreciation among Eagles fans, some of whom would rather see a guy run into a brick wall without a helmet to prove his toughness than making a catch down the field and run out of bounds to protect his body.

Ertz has actually been both. Smart and physical.

"You've got to sometimes sacrifice your body and lay it out, but I've never questioned Zach in that regard," Reich said.

"Zach plays to win. Zach's a winner. He plays aggressive, he runs his routes aggressive, he's aggressive to the ball, and I've never thought anything other than that."

Ertz caught eight passes for 93 yards Sunday in the Eagles' win over the Redskins at FedEx Field. He was targeted eight times and caught all eight passes.

In his last 16 games, the equivalent of a full season, he now has 95 catches for 1,061 yards and four touchdowns.

Since opening day of last year, only Travis Kelce of the Chiefs, who the Eagles will see this weekend, has more catches among NFL tight ends than Ertz. Kelce has 90, Ertz 86.

"I thought we had a good start," Ertz said. "There's some stuff we can improve on, not only me and Carson (Wentz) but as an offense. We weren't 100 percent. But it was a good start.

"I thought there were plays I got covered I shouldn't have and plays I was open and he missed me, but all that matters are wins, and it's very rewarding to get off to a fast start."

Ertz's 255 career catches are eighth most in NFL history by a tight end through 62 games. His eight catches Sunday led all NFL tight ends on opening weekend, and his 93 yards were second most.

Ertz, who played with Nick Foles and Michael Vick as a rookie, Foles and Mark Sanchez in 2014, Sam Bradford in 2015 and Wentz last year, said the luxury of having Wentz back for a second year is huge.

"It's great to have the same quarterback going into another year," he said. "Obviously, it's one game and we're trying to stack them each week. [But] 8 for 8 is where you want to be, you can't get much better than that."

With the Eagles' outside speed, the middle of the field should be open all year for Ertz.

The franchise record is 90 catches by Brian Westbrook in 2007. Ertz needs to average 5½ receptions the rest of the year to break that.

Honestly, it'll be surprising if he doesn't (assuming he stays healthy).

"They connected and had pretty good chemistry pretty quickly and that's just growing," Reich said of Ertz and Wentz.

"I think that chemistry is growing as an offensive unit, but not just those two guys, but everyone knows Zach is a key playmaker for us and we count on him every week to do that."

Why the Eagles will (and why they won't) finish as NFC's top seed

Why the Eagles will (and why they won't) finish as NFC's top seed

All of you who predicted before the season that the Eagles would open with five wins in six games, raise your hand.
 
Put your hands down, liars.
 
If you made that prediction and acted on it, you're likely not reading this. You're probably taping the next episode of Island Hunters.
 
The Eagles haven't finished the regular season as the No. 1 seed in the NFC since 2004. The landscape can change any one of thousands of ways over the next 11 weeks. While I'm confident the Birds will return to the postseason for the first time since 2013, they're gunning for that No. 1 spot. Here are the reasons why they will, and why they won't, be atop the NFC standings after Week 17.
 
WILL
 
1. Carson Wentz

A little more than 13 months ago, we had no idea what we had in the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft. Since then, he's shown that not only can he lead an offense, but he has also grown as an NFL passer by leaps and bounds. He's the best QB in the game on third down this season (130.5 rating), and it's no coincidence he's the favorite to win NFL MVP.
 
2. Lane Johnson
Wentz's performance, both last year and this year, can be directly linked to whether or not Johnson is protecting him. During Johnson's 10-game suspension for a second PED violation in 2016, the Eagles went 2-8. With him, they were 5-1 last year, 4-1 this year. It's impossible to undersell his role in the offense's efficiency.
 
3. Doug Pederson
If there are 70,000 fans who signed a petition to ban NFL referee Pete Morelli from working Eagles games, there should be at least three times that many that should write apology letters to the Eagles' head coach. So many wanted to run him out of town for going for it on 4th-and-8 against the Giants, but did you applaud him for calling the perfect play — a 19-yard out-route to Alshon Jeffery with seven seconds left — a play that took exactly six seconds. Since then, how many times have you screamed at your big screen over a Pederson mistake? I'm guessing not many. Give the guy some props.
 
4. The NFC is garbage
Who is going to beat them out for the No. 1 seed? The Giants are done. The Packers are done. The Eagles are two games in front of nearly half of the conference with 10 games left. The way I see it, there aren't many teams that can catch them. Who's gonna do it ... Case Keenum? Jared Goff?
 
5. You guys
If Carson Wentz has been the most pleasant surprise of the 2017 season, Eagles fans are a close second. The team opened the season with four road games in the first six weeks, but thanks to #EaglesNation, the more recent two away from the Linc sounded like home games. I defy you to name a fanbase that travels better than this one.
 
WHY THEY WON'T
 
1. The cornerbacks
For a position group held together by chewing gum and chicken wire, they've been all right. But for every big play the corners have made, it seems like they've allowed two. They had better hope Ronald Darby returns to 100 percent sooner rather than later and that Patrick Robinson continues to find his footing in this secondary, or they'll face an uphill climb.
 
2. Doug Pederson
Yes, I mentioned he's been impressive as a play-caller, as well as the glue that holds the team together. But am I the only one waiting for the other shoe to drop in a close game? He's starting to win me over, but I can't be alone among those not completely sold on Doug.
 
3. The new receivers
Last year, Nelson Agholor couldn't catch. This year, Torrey Smith can't catch. And for all that Wentz has done this season, it doesn't seem like the chemistry is there with Jeffery quite yet. Jeffery and Smith have been thrown to 73 times through six games. They have 38 catches (52.1 percent). That percentage must go up.
 
4. The schedule
To get to 5-1, the Eagles fought through some tough games. But December awaits. (Insert Game of Thrones reference.) They'll play three straight road games, including back-to-back west coast games against the Seahawks and Rams. Throw in a Christmas night tilt with the Raiders and a New Year's Eve against a Cowboys team that could really need a win and the season's final month will be anything but a cakewalk.
 
5. Chaos theory
The same thing that got us here could be a big reason it ends here. No one predicted the Eagles' 5-1 start. No one predicted the Giants' 0-5 start or the Cowboys' 2-3 start. One thing we know is that there's quite a bit we don't know. What I do know is that I'm here for all of it. Eleven weeks to go ... hold on to your butts.

Eagles LB Joe Walker named Ed Block Courage Award winner

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USA Today Images

Eagles LB Joe Walker named Ed Block Courage Award winner

Eagles linebacker Joe Walker, who missed all of last year with a serious knee injury, has been voted by his teammates this year's Eagles recipient of the prestigious 2017 Ed Block Courage Award. 

Walker joins such hallowed names in Eagles history as Andre Waters, Kevin Turner, Correll Buckhalter, Chad Lewis and Jason Avant in receiving the award, given annually to a player on each team who shows a commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage on and off the field.   

Walker, a seventh-round pick out of Oregon in 2016, suffered a knee injury the second week of training camp last summer but bounced back to make the 53-man roster this year and has played in all six games for the 5-1 Eagles.

With Jordan Hicks hurt in the second half Thursday night in Charlotte, Walker played a career-high 13 snaps on defense against the Panthers. He's played 53 special teams snaps this year.

Ed Block was the Colts’ trainer from 1954 through 1977 after earning a Purple Heart in the Army under General Patton in the tank corps in World War II.

The 32 Ed Block Courage Award winners will be honored at the annual Ed Block Courage banquet in Baltimore this spring.

For more information on the program, go to www.EdBlock.org.

Here is a list of all the Eagles’ Ed Block Courage Award winners since the inception of the program in 1984: 
 
2017     Joe Walker
2016     Nolan Carroll
2015     Fletcher Cox
2014     Jeremy Maclin
2013     Jason Kelce
2012     Colt Anderson
2011     Mike Patterson
2010     Jason Avant
2009     Michael Vick
2008     Jon Dorenbos
2007     Montae Reagor
2006     Jerome McDougle
2005     Chad Lewis
2004     Derrick Burgess
2003     Correll Buckhalter
2002     Shawn Barber
2001     Duce Staley & Tommy Brasher
2000     Cecil Martin
1999     Mike Mamula
1998     Bobby Taylor
1997     Rhett Hall
1996     Kevin Turner
1995     Charlie Garner
1994     Fred Barnett
1993     Andre Waters
1992     Jerome Brown
1991     David Alexander
1990     Ron Solt
1989     Mike Quick
1988     Wes Hopkins
1987     Gerry Feehery
1986     Jody Schultz
1985     Ron Jaworski
1984     John Spagnola