He was targeted once. He caught one pass for 10 yards. Those were Brent Celek’s stats against Tampa Bay, but they’re the wrong numbers to focus on far as Chip Kelly is concerned.
“We were rotating [tight ends],” Kelly said. “We knew that going in. We were five, six days out, you know it was supposed to be 80‑something degrees down there so we were just going to try to play a lot more guys in those situations.”
One guy in particular played a lot more: Zach Ertz. The rookie tight end got 42 reps against the Buccaneers. It was the most snaps Ertz has had all season, and it was just six fewer than what Celek had against Tampa.
Celek was on the field for 71 percent of the Eagles’ offensive plays against the Bucs. For the season, Celek averages 81 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps. Some people looked at those numbers, did some quick math (one target plus one catch against Tampa, minus playing time, equals not good) and concluded that Celek is having a marginal season. Kelly said that’s the wrong answer.
“No, I think Brent, again, played an outstanding game,” Kelly insisted. “If you watch tape and watch how well he blocked, you know, really, specifically, you watch the last drive of the game, I mean, he was just moving people, and I really think he's probably been the most underrated or underappreciated.
“I know from a coaching standpoint, Brent through six games for us has been fantastic, a warrior, just doing everything. Really helping in the blocking game, had some key catches on the screen. He's come up with some really big catches during the season.”
Celek has 11 catches on 18 targets for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Among tight ends, he’s 23rd in yards and 31st in receptions. Those are the receiving statistics. It’s much harder to determine how Celek has done as a run blocker, though he agreed with Kelly’s assessment of his performance to date. When asked what sort of season he thinks he’s having, Celek replied, “I’m probably having one of the better years of my career.”
“Just blocking-wise,” Celek said, “I’ve been playing better than I ever have. I can always work on running routes a little bit better, but in this offense sometimes you’re asked to block, sometimes you’re asked to catch passes. It’s just how it goes.”
Perhaps that’s how it is now, but that’s not exactly how it was expected to go. Not in the beginning. During OTAs, minicamp and the preseason, there was quite a bit of talk about Kelly using sets with multiple tight ends as pass-catching options. That hasn’t happened much this year.
While Ertz played more against Tampa, and while he’s shown some flashes that made him a second-round pick, he’s had a season similar to Celek’s in terms of quantifiable statistics (if not harder-to-categorize run blocking). Ertz has 10 catches on 17 targets for 163 yards and no touchdowns. The team’s third tight end, James Casey, has been all but invisible offensively. Casey has just one catch for 12 yards.
The question, again, is what kind of job the tight ends have done this year. Are defenses taking the Eagles’ tight ends away as pass catchers? Or are the Eagles running more and asking the tight ends to stay in and block?
“I think it's a combination of both,” Kelly said. “But last week, there wasn't anything we could do because James [Casey] couldn't go. But really it's how it expressed itself. How do defenses try to defend you? What do they do? What are the strengths of our team? What do we feel as a coaching staff matches up better for us? Is it better to get this personnel in the game, as opposed to that personnel in the game? And as we keep going here, I think you're going to need them all just because we know everybody is not going to be healthy at times and there's going to be times when we don't have as many receivers available to us and we may have to go to this package as opposed to that package.
“It's a good thing to have and we think we've got three quality tight ends. It's just really kind of, what do people do when they see that?”