Tight ends nearly invisible through three games

Tight ends nearly invisible through three games

Eagle Eye: Do the Eagles have a chance against Peyton Manning?

September 24, 2013, 8:00 am
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Brent Celek (left), James Casey (middle) and Zach Ertz (right) have combined for eight catches in three games. (USA Today Images)

Remember all that talk during the offseason about all the multiple tight end sets Chip Kelly was going to use?

About how with Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey, the Eagles had three big-time playmaking tight end weapons?

How all these playmaking tight ends were so versatile they could line up in a lot of different ways and force defenses into bad matchups?

Yeah, well. We’re still waiting.

Celek, Ertz and Casey have combined for just eight catches through three games. And those three tight end sets we heard so much about? The Eagles have run exactly three snaps this year with three tight ends on the field.

Of the Eagles’ 198 offensive snaps this year, 165 of them -- 83 percent -- have been single tight end sets -- 147 with just Celek, 18 with just Ertz and none with just Casey.

The Eagles have used two tight ends 26 times -- 22 snaps with Celek and Ertz and four snaps with Ertz and Casey.

The roster was certainly put together with multiple tight end formations in mind. Celek’s 3,369 receiving yards are fifth-most among all NFL tight ends over the past six years, Ertz was a second-round draft pick and Casey got a three-year, $17 million contract this offseason.

All of which has added up to eight catches in three games.

One factor for the limited role of the tight end has been Jason Avant’s outstanding play -- both as a receiver and a blocker. Avant has played nearly as many snaps (171) as starters Riley Cooper (198) and DeSean Jackson (196).

And three wides means one tight end.

“This offense is predicated on who’s making the plays,” Kelly said. “When all your decisions are made, if we put this guy in, who are we taking out?

“I think Jason is playing at a high level. … If we put a second tight end in the game, are we taking Jason out of the game? If we are putting another tight end in, we would be taking Brent out of the game?

Celek had a couple catches for 56 yards and a touchdown in the Week 1 win over the Redskins, but has just two receptions for 18 yards the last two weeks.

Ertz had two catches for 58 yards against the Chargers and is 4 for 74 overall. He’s played 51 snaps, although just 27 the last two weeks.

Casey, who is earning $4.015 million this year, has played only eight snaps this year. Two came on kneeldowns. Just one came against the Chiefs.

Celek has just four catches, but he is the best blocker of the group, and Kelly clearly feels strongly about having both Celek and Avant on the field at the same time.

“Jason and Brent knew the situation coming in and have embraced the competition and stepped up their game," Kelly said. "I think it's more of a credit to Brent and Jason than it is where are we from a standpoint of do we want to play two tight ends, three tight ends.

“The one guy that has really stepped up throughout anybody on our offensive team has been Brent. I know he's a little bit of an older player in this team, but when I look at Brent on the sideline, I don't know if we have a fresher guy. That's a credit to him, the conditioning he's done.”

The good news is that the Eagles are moving the ball better than almost anybody in the NFL. Only the Broncos, who the Eagles play on Sunday, have more yards than the Eagles (1,460 to 1,385).

But the Eagles are eighth in scoring offense at 26.3 points per game.

Kelly said he’ll continue to try and match up personnel with what defenses are doing, but whether that means more tight end play remains to be seen.

“A lot of times it becomes a match game,” he said. “What matchups do you want to be in?  What matchups do you think are more favorable to you?  You're kind of looking at how people try to defend different formations and different sets to try to get tendencies in terms of how they're going to deploy their personnel.

“I think we're getting production out of that position. A lot of times in terms of playing multiple tight ends, it depends on what you want to face. If you go smaller, they go smaller. Hopefully we can get some favorable matchups in that situation.”

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