The Eagles’ red zone offense was nothing short of an uncertainty under former head coach Chip Kelly, ranking 23rd in the NFL in 2014 before climbing up to the middle of the pack at 15th overall with a 55 percent success rate.
First-year head coach Doug Pederson saw his Kansas City offense fair much better in that department, averaging a top 10 red zone efficiency between the last two seasons. He believes the Eagles will follow that route this season and much of that has to do with his tight ends, particularly Zach Ertz.
For the past three offseasons, this one included, the hype around Ertz has only grown. This time it may be warranted after the way he ended the 2015 season, totaling 35 catches for 450 yards and one touchdown over that span.
“Zach is a great tight end, a great team player and a leader on this football team," Pederson said."I love all of our tight ends, but in his case he can definitely create some opportunities for us. His ability to catch the football and to separate... he’s a big target over the middle.”
Pederson hopes to use that big target more in the red zone.
“We expect to use his talent down there and his size to separate and make plays down there,” Pederson said.
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Ertz has caught just one touchdown in the red zone in each of the past two seasons after hauling in three of them as a rookie. By comparison, Pederson’s Pro Bowl tight end in Kansas City, Travis Kelce, has seen seven of his 10 career touchdowns result in a score with four of them coming last season.
To further compare the two, both players come in at 6-foot-5 with Kelce weighing in only 10-pounds heavier. The two each play similar games, as well, which should result in that longed offensive production from Ertz.
Through his first three years, the Stanford product has picked up some nuances that come with producing in the red zone. As Pederson put it, defenses are dropping eight back now whenever the offense gets within the 12-yard-line; that makes it much harder to find holes.
“You have to be able to go up there and make plays,” Ertz said. “I think my number is going to be called a little bit more this year.
Ertz admits his usage in the red zone hasn’t been what he would have liked, but that the early stages under Pederson is making him more optimistic about his fourth season.
“I’m really excited about this one, “Ertz said.