Zach Ertz has been perhaps the best pass-catching tight end in the NFL this season. He finished the season with 116 receptions, an NFL record for receptions by a tight end in a season and the Eagles' record for receptions in a season at any position. He also had his first 1,000-yard season (1,163 yards) and his eight touchdowns tied a career high.
Ertz will surely be counted upon to make important plays and keep the offense moving on Sunday when the Eagles square off with the Bears at Soldier Field in the NFC Wild Card round.
But against one of the top defenses in the league, including one of the best pass rushers in linebacker Khalil Mack, Ertz will likely have other duties on top of his regular assignment.
In his Wednesday press conference, head coach Doug Pederson mentioned that other positions will have to step up in protection against a ferocious front.
"We just have to know where (Mack is) at, obviously, and he's a tremendous player, especially on third down when he can gear up and get after the quarterback and he's very disruptive," Pederson said. "It makes it a challenge, but our backs and tight ends just have to know by scheme or by protection call or formation where he is, and quite frankly, the entire front, because it's a good front."
This will be an extra challenge for Ertz, as well as the rest of the Eagles' running backs and tight ends. But after a regular season filled with non-stop obstacles, Ertz is unphased by the next one.
"Whatever the coaches need me to do, I'm willing to do," said Ertz, who played 75 percent of the offensive snaps against Washington last Sunday but had just three receptions for 15 yards. "Whether it be blocking every play or try and catch as many balls as I can, it doesn't really matter to me at this point. I think in the playoffs, all that matters is winning football games ... so I'm just going to go out and do everything I can to find a way to win the football game."
The Eagles' offense, which has caught fire in recent weeks with an ability to score and control the clock, may face its toughest test of the year on Sunday with the season hanging in the balance. The Bears' defense leads the league in creating turnovers, stopping the run, and limiting yardage on passing plays.
Last season, the Eagles faced the top NFL defense in the playoffs and scored 38 points in a rout of the Minnesota Vikings. But Ertz knows this is a much different situation and the Eagles will have to do it now on the road in a raucous environment.
"Obviously, this week is going to be a huge challenge for us," Ertz said. "This defense is extremely talented. (Bears defensive coordinator) Vic Fangio has these guys playing at an extremely high level. Khalil Mack is one of the three best defensive players in this league. But they've got talent all over the field, it's not just him. So, we've got our work cut out for us and it's going to be a big game."
Leaders like Ertz were able to keep the Eagles together when they were stuck with a 4-6 record after a beatdown in New Orleans. They have since played their best football of the season and won five of their last six to get into the playoffs.
But while the Eagles enter the playoffs feeling hot, Ertz understands why they are big underdogs in the first round. Last season, the doubt was a slight to a team with the NFC's best record. This year, it's more warranted for the NFC's sixth seed.
Still, that doesn't change Ertz's confidence level in his team. He said he is excited to have another opportunity to play with his teammates and believes they are experienced enough to take care of business on the road.
"We didn't sneak into this thing. We had to earn our way into it," Ertz said. "Everybody's 0-0 right now. Everyone's record is the same. You have to focus on being the best team you can possibly be because you don't know when this thing could end. So, we're doing everything we can this week, exhausting all options to go out and play our best football this weekend because nothing in the past matters now. The only thing that matters is playing well on Sunday.
"Obviously, the first 10 weeks of the year didn't go exactly as planned. But I think the past six weeks, we really started to play up to our potential as a football team," he added. "We didn't even know if this opportunity would be real because of everything that happened the first 10 weeks of the year. But we're a confident group, we've played in a lot of big games as a group, but come Sunday, all that big experience isn't going to matter if we don't go out there and execute."