Zach Ertz is a huge roadblock to a Philadelphia Eagles victory in Arizona

Zach Ertz, Arizona Cardinals (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
Zach Ertz, Arizona Cardinals (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /

It won’t require a long glance to arrive at the following conclusion. Former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz is likely the toughest matchup Philly’s defense has in limiting an oftentimes high-powered Arizona Cardinals offense. No one has forgotten his ability. Just ask head coach Nick Sirianni who spoke glowingly about him and about the upcoming matchup recently.

If you think back to last season, better tight ends gave Jonathan Gannon’s defense a ton of headaches. That hasn’t been much of an issue during the first four games of the current season, but none of the guys that Philly has seen so far are as gifted as the man that caught over 600 passes in an Eagles jersey (that includes what he did in the postseason).

The Philadelphia Eagles have their hands full with Zach Ertz in Week 5.

Zach Ertz has 22 catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns on his regular-season resume this season. That alone is an attention grabber, but his 8.2 yards-per-reception average, one that keeps the Cardinals ahead of the chains, is where the Philadelphia Eagles must focus. He’s giving his coaches the full range of play-calling options.

The analytics

The matchups that are available against Zach Ertz are based on how he is aligned in their offensive formations. This season, he has been aligned in the slot 59.1% percent of the time, as a wide receiver 12.7% of the time and in line 26% of the time.

The Eagles run-zone coverage, combo coverage, and zone match concepts 65.6% of the time, which means that Zach Ertz will likely be matched up against linebackers, safeties, and slot corners more than he’d see a potential matchup versus Darius Slay and James Bradberry on the outside of the formation.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who can be aligned both as a slot corner and as a safety, has strong numbers while in zone coverage and should likely get the first look at the matchup.

As the season matures and players see increasing wear and tear, bench pieces should be given more situational roles as Zach Ertz provides a tough physical matchup. K’Von Wallace, though mostly a box safety, and Marcus Epps, one of the starters, could provide snaps as an alternate matchup in the first 15 plays to test how the Cardinals adjust to the Philadelphia Eagles defense.

The matchups

The issue with defending Zach Ertz is that he provides a size and speed matchup nightmare at six-foot-five and 250 pounds. The NFL is highly cyclical in terms of strategy. Modern rules have encouraged more teams to focus on their passing game. Defenses are using split safety alignments and drafting smaller and more athletic linebackers. Guys who are asked to just attack downfield are extinct (think Takeo Spikes). As the NFL evolves, guys are asked to cover and do more in general at the second level.

Using additional men coverage in coverage is one solution, a move that Coach Gannon made around the middle of last season. That could assist in providing better matchups against Zach Ertz on third downs.

Avonte Maddox has been a strength in man coverage, but he’s out of the game on Sunday. T.J. Edwards, Kyzir White, Zech McPhearson, and Josiah Scott are also strong in man coverage and could provide situational matchups if the Eagles employ that strategy on third down.

Trending. Under-the-radar matchups in Week 5. light

Here are some of the looks Gannon’s unit gave us on third down versus the Detroit Lions: Red Nickel Cover 3 Sky; Cover 0 Blitz; Cover 1 Hole; Tite Sam Cover 4; Cover 4; Nickel Cover 5; Red Cover 1 Hole; and Cover 1 Dog.

Expect Coach Gannon to use man coverage, at least underneath. He’s likely to increase his use of such and ‘man match coverages’ as the regular season continues to progress.