Eagles excited to finally use 3-TE set, hoping it 'presents a lot of problems'

Eagles excited to finally use 3-TE set, hoping it 'presents a lot of problems'

When Trey Burton became healthy enough to return for the Eagles’ second game of the season after missing the opener, it was bittersweet. 

Sure, he was getting back on the field, but he wouldn’t be joined by fellow tight end Zach Ertz, who suffered a first rib displacement. 

“I wish all three of us could be out there,” Burton said before Week 2. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get that somewhere during the season.”

Burton will get his wish this weekend. 

Thanks to the extra time the bye week provided, Ertz has completely recovered from his injury and will play Sunday against the Lions. So will Brent Celek. So will Burton. This will be the first time all year the Eagles will have their three tight ends healthy. 

And with all due respect to Matt Tobin, who filled in as a tight end on a few snaps, this will be the first time the Eagles will get a chance to show off their three-tight end set, which they worked on extensively during training camp. 

“The more tight ends, the better, in my opinion,” Celek said with a smile. “It’s great to just have the whole crew out there. We’ve worked so hard to be able to play with three tight ends. And obviously up until this point we’ve only had two going into each game. It’ll be nice. It’ll be fun, all of us going out there together.”

It’ll be a good week to get all three back, too. This season, the Lions have given up 22 catches for 247 yards and six touchdowns to opposing tight ends. They’ve given up a touchdown to a tight end in all four games this season. And they have given up 18 touchdowns to tight ends in their last 20 games, according to DraftKings’ Adam Levitan

Meanwhile, according to CSNPhilly.com's Reuben Frank, the Eagles are the only team in the league to have three tight ends with 50-plus receiving yards. 

Without having all three natural tight ends active, Tobin played 37 snaps (17 percent) in the first three games, which is a pretty high number to be in 13 personnel (three tight ends, one running back) given that one of them was playing out of position. 

For Tobin, it was an adjustment to a new position and it basically gave the Eagles an extra tackle on either the right or left side of the line. While Tobin was forced to report as an eligible receiver on these plays because he has an ineligible number, he wasn’t much of a threat to catch the ball. Teams knew he was staying in to block. 

Ertz, Celek and Burton are true dual threats. 

“This way, it kind of gets back to what I envisioned us being early in the season,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Obviously in training camp, with three tight ends. I love using all three of our guys. … Looking forward to this week and hopefully future weeks with those three guys.”

Having three dual-threat tight ends can create a mismatch problem for defenses. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said it could create extra gaps in the run game and motioning players could allow them to see how a defense responds to those shifts. 

The first question for a defense is what personnel to put on the field against the three-tight end set. 

“Yeah, it's tough to go nickel (package) against three tight ends,” Ertz said. “Most teams go base or possibly even bigger packages. And you have the ability to kind of spread [Burton] and I out. If you have three really good tight ends who can do both, which in our opinion we can, I think you'd have to ask (defensive coordinator Jim) Schwartz how he would game plan for it, but in our eyes, I think it presents a lot of problems.”

Celek said he isn’t sure how defenses will counteract the three-tight end set because they haven’t really done it before. While he thinks the team had the talent to do it in the past, when it had multi-dimensional player James Casey, it didn’t. 

Over the last three years, under Chip Kelly from 2013-15, the Eagles had three tight ends on the field for just 57 total plays — or 1.66 percent. 

Using three tight ends now not only creates matchup problems for defenses, but it’s also a way to make up for a receiving corps that leaves something to be desired. 

“I don’t really know if a lot of other teams just don’t really use the three-tight end sets or just they don’t have the personnel for it,” Celek said. “But it’s fun being in the room with these guys because we all wish the best for each other and we’re always pushing each other. It’s a fun group to be around.”

These criticisms of Alshon Jeffery should make you laugh

These criticisms of Alshon Jeffery should make you laugh

There was an interesting series of tweets regarding Alshon Jeffery Tuesday morning from Chris Raybon, who hosts a gambling show called “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+ and also writes often about fantasy sports.

Raybon’s general point was that Jeffery has underachieved the last few years, that he's not a true No. 1 receiver and that his numbers have declined since his four-game suspension in 2016 for a positive PED test.

Raybon’s tweets were all factually accurate, but they bothered me. For a few reasons.

First of all, Raybon tweeted that Jeffery has gone 30 straight games without a 100-yard game.

Then he tweeted that Jeffery hasn’t had a 100-yard game since his PED suspension.

And he pointed out correctly that Jeffery’s catches and yards have gone down each year over the last three seasons, although his notion that Jeffery’s nine touchdowns last year “masked” a decline in production is kind of bizarre. Isn’t scoring touchdowns the whole idea of playing football?

The first most basic error Raybon makes is equating 100-yard games to success. Since when do we measure a receiver’s value by 100-yard games? 

Eagles receivers had a total of three 100-yard games all last year — Zach Ertz vs. the Bears, Nelson Agholor vs. the Seahawks and Torrey Smith vs. the Rams.

That really held the team back, didn't it.

It’s called being balanced.

The Eagles still had the No. 3 scoring offense in the NFL, went 13-3 and won a Super Bowl. They had one QB make the Pro Bowl and another one named Super Bowl MVP. I would argue that the lack of 100-yard receivers made the Eagles more unpredictable, more dangerous, more difficult to defend. 

If you want to make the point that it doesn’t make sense to draft any Eagles receiver in fantasy because the Eagles are so balanced offensively, that’s fine.

But trying to make a case that Jeffery underachieved or is overpaid or overrated because his yards were spread out fairly evenly throughout the season instead of in groups of 100 yards is just silly.

The fact that Jeffery didn’t have any 100-yard games is irrelevant. That was never the goal. Including the postseason, he had 60 or more yards nine times, and only 11 wide receivers league-wide had more games with 60 or more yards. 

I’d rather have a guy catch 60 yards week in and week out than have 100 here and nine there. And if we're simply measuring fantasy value, how do you argue with 12 touchdowns — nine in the regular season and three more in the playoffs?

Only DeAndre Hopkins had more (13).

But here’s what really bothered me. 

None of Raybon’s tweets addressed Jeffery’s terrific production in the postseason.

Playing with a torn rotator cuff injury that required offseason surgery, Jeffery had 12 catches for 219 yards and three touchdowns in wins over the Falcons, Vikings and Patriots.

Only 11 other players in NFL history have had 200 receiving yards and three TDs in a postseason playing for a Super Bowl champion. Guys like Rice, Fitz, Swann and Boldin.

In 19 games, Jeffery had 69 catches, 1,008 yards and 12 TDs.

Here's a list of players in Eagles history with 60 catches, 1,000 yards and 12 TDs in a season: McDonald, Carmichael, Quick, Owens, Jeffery.

Guess they all stink.

Jeffery was such a big-play guy in the postseason. He had a 53-yard touchdown catch against the Vikings. You know what other receivers have had 50-yard TD catches against the Vikings’ vaunted defense the last two years?

Yeah. Nobody.

He had 73 yards in the Super Bowl, for crying out loud, including a high-flying miracle 34-yard touchdown that gave the Eagles the lead in the first quarter and pretty much showed the world that the Patriots were in for a battle in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.

You know what other receivers have had TD catches longer than 30 yards against the Patriots in the playoffs the last four years?

Yeah. Nobody.

Jeffery last year had 18 first-down catches on third down in the regular season, and only eight receivers in the league had more. He had four more in the playoffs.

If you’re looking for a guy to clean up in fantasy football with meaningless stats, stay away from Jeffery.

If you’re looking for big catches at big moments, if you’re looking for an unselfish team leader who never complained when the ball didn’t come his way, if you’re looking for a champion, Jeffery's your guy.

More on the Eagles

Remembering bounces that went Eagles' way in Super Bowl run


Remembering bounces that went Eagles' way in Super Bowl run

Let’s start this by making sure we all understand that the Eagles absolutely earned their Super Bowl win last season. They were the best team in the NFL all year and they overcame injuries that would have killed most teams. 

But no team can win a championship without at least a few things going its way. That was true for the Eagles too. 

The topic of luck came up with Doug Pederson in a spring session with several reporters not too long ago. It happened when Pederson was asked about how he won a Super Bowl in Year 2, but Andy Reid couldn’t in 14 mostly successful years. Pederson pointed to a lot of key players that Reid brought to town who were integral during the Super Bowl run. … But also luck. 

“The ball’s got to bounce your way,” Pederson said. 

The Eagles earned their Super Bowl rings, but they did get a little bit of luck along the way too. That conversation with Pederson got us thinking. 

Here are six times the ball bounced their way — figuratively or literally — during the playoff run: 

This play came on 2nd-and-8 from their own 30-yard line with 22 seconds left in the second quarter of the divisional round game against the Falcons. The ball literally bounced to the Eagles on this one. 

Somehow Nick Foles’ errant pass should have fallen right into the arms of Keanu Neal, but for some reason, Neal jumped up and the ball hit him in the knee. It then bounced back about seven or eight yards and fell into the arms of Torrey Smith, who picked up a 20-yard gain. Three plays later, Jake Elliott drilled a 53-yard field goal to pull the Eagles within one point (10-9) heading into halftime. 

The Eagles still needed to pick up a first down before they ran out the clock after this play, but this was really the final play of the game. Jalen Mills got aggressive and he deserves credit, but it would have been nearly impossible to defend a perfect throw to Julio Jones in the end zone. This one falls incomplete and the Eagles moved on to the NFC Championship Game. 

“If that ball is you know, a foot lower, it might be a different story,” Pederson said. 

The NFC Championship Game wasn’t very close game between the Eagles and the Vikings, so I guess it was somewhat lucky the Eagles faced Minnesota instead of New Orleans. That doesn’t happen without this crazy play to end the other divisional game. Somehow Marcus Williams didn’t force Stefon Diggs out of bounds and Diggs went in for a game-winning 61-yard touchdown. 

Now, after seeing how the Eagles dismantled the Vikings and then beat the Patriots, they absolutely could have beaten the Saints in the NFC Championship Game, but it would have been much tougher. I always thought the Eagles didn’t want to see Drew Brees in the playoffs; thanks to this play, they didn’t have to. 

Early in the second quarter of the Super Bowl, the Eagles were gifted a bad long snap that led to a short missed field goal from Stephen Gostkowski, one of the best kickers in the NFL. Gostkowski had already made a 26-yard field goal earlier in the game. In his career, the veteran kicker has made 89.5 percent of his field goals in the playoffs. 

The 26-yard miss was just the fourth miss of Gostkowski’s playoff career (34 for 38) and it’s by far the shortest miss of his playoff career. In fact, it’s tied for the shortest miss of his career; he missed a 26-yarder back in 2008. It was just the fifth miss for Gostkowski from 20-29 yards in his entire career. 

Foles didn’t have this problem. Foles caught the ball in the "Philly Special," but Tom Brady couldn’t bring in this ball in the second quarter on third down. On fourth down, Mills broke up a pass intended for Rob Gronkowski down the sideline. 

If Brady catches this ball, not only do the Patriots have a first down, they get pretty far into Philly territory. Brady isn’t fast, but check out how much space he’d have. 

Oh well. He didn’t catch it. 

Brandon Graham waited until the end of the game, but he pulled off the most important play in Eagles history with just over two minutes left in Super Bowl LII. But it might not matter if the ball dropped on the point and bounces to a Patriot. New England would have had the ball back and it would have been third down, with two more chances to advance. 

Instead, the ball hit the ground with the flat side and hovered in the air before rookie Derek Barnett grabbed it.

Some could argue the final Hail Mary falling incomplete was lucky too, but that play would have been much luckier for the Patriots had it worked. 

We started with this and we’ll end with it. The Eagles earned their championship. None of this takes away from it. It’s just fun to remember how crazy some of these things that went down were. 

“I think there's a little bit of that [luck], you know?” Pederson said. “But again, it doesn't, it doesn't pull away from the fact that our guys worked extremely hard and put themselves in a position to win those games."

More on the Eagles