During a game after which Eagles head coach Doug Pederson eventually admitted “not everybody” played hard, two individual plays have been scrutinized more than any others this week.
More than anything, two plays from the first quarter have stood out the most from the 32-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday.
First, there was Zach Ertz’s non-block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, then there was Jeremy Hill’s short touchdown run where it looks like Rodney McLeod simply let him score.
Schwartz: McLeod flat-footed on TD. "I’ll put my name on Rodney McLeod any day. That guys plays the way the game’s supposed to be played." pic.twitter.com/PfWcgkFI3a— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroNBCS) December 6, 2016
“I understand all the criticism and stuff,” Ertz said by his locker on Wednesday. “I’m not going to get into the details of every thought I had on that play. I’m focused on giving this city everything I have on each and every play. I promise going forward, I will do that. I think I have done that in the past.
"I understand how it looks on the film, but I’m not going to get into the minute details of what I saw on the play and what I didn’t see on the play and how it impacted the play and vice versa. I’m focused on getting better. I know I’m far from a finished product as a tight end. I’m looking forward to this week against the Redskins.”
On the play, Carson Wentz scrambled for a gain of 10 yards and with Burfict sprinting toward the play, Ertz side-stepped to let him through. Head coach Doug Pederson and Wentz have both said a block from Ertz wouldn’t have been a factor on the play because Wentz was going out of bounds.
But it certainly didn’t look good and fans aren’t happy about the perceived lack of effort, which Ertz said he understands.
So does Ertz think he did anything wrong on the play?
“I think I could have maybe got in his way, impeded his progress a little more to ensure that he didn’t get near Carson by any means,” he said. “But like I said, there were a thousand things going through my mind on that play and there’s a million reasons why I do stuff on each and every play and I’m focused on getting better.”
While offensive coordinator Frank Reich suggested on Tuesday that he was OK with the non-block from Ertz because it will keep his best tight end healthy for the last quarter of the season, Ertz said the coaching staff hasn’t told him to pick his spots to be physical and claimed his past injuries aren’t affecting the way he’s been playing.
And aside from that one play on Sunday, Ertz thinks he showed his toughness and effort throughout the afternoon.
“If you look at that game, I did give my all,” he said. “That one play has come under a lot of scrutiny, obviously, but if you watch that game for all four quarters, I mean, I’m cramping up, I’m still going out there and battling each and every play. All I care is what my teammates and my coaches think about me. That’s all I’m focused on.”
This isn’t the first time Ertz’s effort and toughness have been questioned this season. The lack of yards after the catch and after contact has become a major talking point among fans this season.
But for Rodney McLeod, having his effort questioned is an entirely new experience. McLeod wasn’t a second-round pick like Ertz; McLeod entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 2012. He worked his way to becoming a starter and eventually earning a free-agent deal with the Eagles this offseason.
Hard work and effort are what got him here.
“It definitely hurts,” McLeod said about the criticism. “I know what type of player I am. I’m going to take pride in that. I feel like effort, hard work are the things that got me where I am today. That’s what my game is built on. So when somebody questions or has doubt in that, it does hurt. But nothing I can do. Just continue to put good stuff on tape, which I feel like I have done and continue to ride for my teammates and others.”
McLeod’s explanation for what happened on the first-quarter touchdown run echoed what his defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday. Basically, he thought the play was going somewhere else and by the time he was able to react, he was flat-footed.
He then said he didn’t hit Hill because he thought the running back had already crossed the plane of the goal line and he didn’t want to get flagged.
When fans watch the play, they might see a player who didn’t give it his all on that play. Not McLeod.
“I really don’t see it,” he said. “If you look at any play before then, any game, any practice film, I’m probably one of the guys that’s giving it his all out there for this team and for my teammates. Like I said, I’m a prideful guy. I take pride in effort, hard work — all those things, I think, describe who I am as a player. Looking at that play, I thought it would hit somewhere else. It kind of came through leaky, guy was low, felt like by the time I got over there, it could possibly be a late hit. It’s a tough situation for me to be in.”