The Giants are hoping to shut down production of Zach Ertz come Sunday:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Will this week bring more tight end trouble for the Giants?
In each of their first two games, losses to Dallas and Detroit, the opposition's leading receiver was a tight end. In Week 1, Jason Witten had seven receptions for 59 yards and scored the game's only touchdown. On Monday night, the Lions' Eric Ebron finished with five catches for 42 yards, including a seven-yard score.
On Sunday in Philadelphia, the Giants must contend with the Eagles' new-look passing attack, one that features improving second-year quarterback Carson Wentz and offseason acquisitions Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith at wide receiver, plus Nelson Agholor and dynamic running back Darren Sproles.
That impressive group doesn't include the player who leads the Eagles with 13 receptions and 190 yards – tight end Zach Ertz. Given what's happened the previous two weeks, it's no surprise defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had a rapid and accurate response when asked what his unit must do to contain Philly's tight end.
"Cover him better," Spagnuolo said. "Knock him around a little bit at the line of scrimmage. Hope he drops a couple of balls. Look, we do have some certain calls in there to take away the tight end, but this team's no different than the last two that we've played. You can't just concentrate on that one positon, because if you commit too many people to one spot, other things open up and we make a conscience decision of what we're going to take away. Two weeks ago, we weren't going to let 88 (Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant) wreck the football game. So, 82 (Witten) gets a couple of catches. This past week, same thing. But we'll change it up and hopefully when we decide to take it away, I call it at the right time when they're trying to throw it to him. It doesn't always work out that way."
The Giants had mixed success against Ertz last season. In a 28-23 Giants victory in MetLife Stadium, he caught eight passes for 97 yards. But when the Eagles picked up a 24-19 triumph in the rematch in Lincoln Financial Field, he caught just two passes for 33 yards. In eight career games vs. the Giants, Ertz has 33 receptions for 471 yards and a touchdown.
"I think a quality tight end in a passing game really helps an offense get going," coach Ben McAdoo said. "Ertz is really coming into his own as a player. He's been very productive. He's a talented player. He's a tough matchup for any team and we'll have our hands full there."
The Giants will have one important player to help defend the tight end they didn't previously have in linebacker Keenan Robinson, who missed the first two games with a concussion.
"Keenan's a guy that understands what we're doing, he's got some games under his belt," Spagnuolo said. "He gets in there in sub packages. We'll have to decide which way we'll go, overall game plan-wise. Who's going to be the MIKE (middle linebacker) and what different packages we have, and we're doing that right now. But it's good to have another option."
"Just hope I can just do my part," Robinson said. "Whatever my job is, whether it's manning the middle, covering backs, covering tight ends, I just want to do it as well as I can and just do my part on the play."
If they neutralize Ertz, the Giants will still have plenty of offensive weapons to contend with. Through two weeks, Philadelphia is third in the NFL with 298.5 passing yards per game, and second with a 55.2 success rate on third-down conversions (16 of 29).
Although he's been sacked eight times, Wentz has completed 60 percent of his passes and thrown for four touchdowns and two interceptions. He's also leading the Eagles with 61 rushing yards on just eight attempts, an indication of his mobility and awareness. Few quarterbacks are as adept at buying time in and around the pocket. If Wentz still can't find a receiver, he'll take off down the field.
McAdoo said Wentz is a "young, dynamic and impressive quarterback," who is "having a tremendous start to the season.
"It looks like he has eyes in the back of his head right now. He's very elusive in the pocket. He's strong in the pocket. He can escape. He can create on the move. He comes up throwing when he gets out of the pocket. He's a dangerous player whether in or out of the pocket and he has some big players around him, some big skill players who can make some plays for him whether it's Ertz or the two new receivers they brought in."
"(Wentz) just looks a whole lot more confident in the pocket,' defensive tackle Damon Harrison said. "At times, he looks like Aaron Rodgers out there running around, evading the rush and still making some pretty good throws. I don't know anything other than confidence."
The Giants hope to make Wentz feel a little less secure on Sunday.
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