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Inside Zach Ertz's Season For The Ages

Tight end Zach Ertz has no issue suiting up and performing – no, thriving – in front of nearly 70,000 fans at Lincoln Financial Field on gameday. Back in February, he caught the Super Bowl-winning touchdown in front of over 67,000 inside U.S. Bank Stadium and another 103 million watching on televisions around the world.

On Thursday night, however, Ertz was pushed out of his comfort zone as he addressed the crowd of nearly 400 guests at the City of Love Event at Lincoln Financial Field to kick off the Philadelphia launch of the **Ertz Family Foundation**, which he started earlier this year with his wife, Julie.

Fortunately for Ertz, his play has been doing plenty of talking on the field in 2018.

"I think I've said it since I got here six years ago, surprisingly. I want to be the guy on third down. I want to be the guy in the red zone. I want to be the guy when our backs are up against the wall, I want to be the guy they go to. And fortunately, this past week they did," Ertz said of his seven-catch, 91-yard, and one-touchdown performance in last week's must-win game against the Giants. "I just try always to make the most of my opportunities. It's not going to be perfect. There are plays I want to have back just like every week."

The Pro Bowl tight end is having a season for the ages. In just 11 games, he's already set career highs with 84 receptions and 895 yards. The 84 receptions lead all NFL tight ends and rank tied for third in the entire league, behind only wide receivers Adam Thielen (93) and Michael Thomas (86). The 895 yards pace all NFC tight ends.

Ertz is on track to shatter the Eagles' record for most catches in a single season. The current mark is held by Eagles Hall of Fame running back Brian Westbrook who had 90 in 2007. With two career games of 13 or more catches against Washington, this week's opponent, that record could belong to Ertz by Monday night.

The NFL's all-time record for most receptions in a season by a tight end is within striking distance. It's owned by someone who will be at Lincoln Financial Field for the game. Former Dallas tight end Jason Witten, who is now an analyst for Monday Night Football, hauled in 110 catches in the 2010 season. If Ertz maintains his current pace of 7.6 catches per game, he'll end the season with 122.

And it's certainly possible. He set an Eagles record for most catches in a three-game span with 30 in the final three contests of the 2015 season. Over the last quarter of that year, Ertz had 450 receiving yards becoming just the second tight end (Jimmy Graham) to have at least that many yards in any four-game span since 2013.

"To see where he's at now, it's fun for me to watch," tight ends coach Justin Peelle said. "The demeanor and how much it means to him and how hard he works and how much important it is and all of those things that you wouldn't necessarily see unless you're with him throughout the season. He does a fantastic job. It's been a blast."

As productive as Ertz has been, it's really nothing new for the prolific 6-5, 250-pound go-to weapon. Since that 2015 season, Ertz has displayed impressive consistency by amassing at least 74 catches and 815 receiving yards each year.

Not satisfied with his 2017 campaign that resulted in the Super Bowl and his first Pro Bowl nomination, Ertz made a significant change in his weekly prep. He has not played a full 16-game regular season since 2014. He noticed that he was getting injured roughly during the same time each year, so he overhauled his in-season lifting program to change the amount of stress he puts on his body. Ertz feels better than he has at any point in his career going into games despite playing 95 percent of the snaps in 2018, easily the highest snap share of his Eagles tenure.

"Football is something that I love to do," Ertz said. "And football is a game that doesn't last forever, so I want to invest as much as I can, leave it all out there for these 10-15 years, however long my career is, so when I hang them up, I can say, 'Hey, I left it all out there. I wouldn't change a thing about it and I really have no regrets.' I think that's where the work ethic stems from because I don't want to look back when I'm done and say, 'Hey, I wish I did this or wish I did that.'"

What helped put Ertz on the radar in 2017 was his ability to win in the red zone. Since the start of last season, Ertz leads all NFL tight ends with 14 red zone touchdowns. Ertz is an amazing route runner with soft hands. He's caught an incredible 75.7 percent of his targets this season. He is outstanding at understanding coverages – his touchdown last Sunday displayed that as the Giants showed man but played zone and Ertz settled in and came back to quarterback Carson Wentz, catching the ball at the 7-yard line then rumbling in for the score. Coaches have praised Ertz's ability to win using leverage. Even when the ball doesn't come his way, Ertz is drawing double teams to open up opportunities for teammates.

"I watch him come to work every day with a purpose," Peelle said. "Things are just falling together for him as an individual right now and he's playing at a high level. He and Carson have been on the same page since they've been here. I can't give you a specific reason why. It's just one of those years."

The individual accomplishments are great but Ertz and the Eagles are in the midst of a battle for NFC East supremacy, one that was made more difficult by Dallas' upset of New Orleans on Thursday night. Ertz's focus is on helping the Eagles win back-to-back games for the first time all season against Washington.

"They know me extremely well. I know them extremely well. At the end of the day, it comes down to the details of just producing against those guys," Ertz said. "I don't think it's a certain matchup because there's been a lot of guys that have been shifting in and out from them and us as well.

"At the end of the day, I have to go out there and make plays and I think I've been doing a pretty good job against them. I've had some good games against them and I hope it continues this week, but at the same time, they have a really good defense. They've got two really good safeties and a really good front seven, so it's going to be a good game."

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