Eagles

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."