The time has come for Zach Ertz and the Philadelphia Eagles to begin their title defense in 2018. Football is back.
The Eagles will open the new NFL season at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night and Philly is focused on not only picking up where they left off, but continuing a new tradition of excellence.
In fact, the Eagles have implemented some interesting strategies, with designs on turning the page and starting strong, ensuring that there will be no hangover in Philadelphia. And with plenty of new faces in the locker room, as well as plenty of guys that missed the playoff run last year, the Eagles are eager for more in 2018.
“We’re extremely hungry for sustained success in this city. We’ve tasted it one time and that’s something that you never want to give up,” Ertz said. “We’re hungry to repeat. Obviously, it’s a brand-new team. You can’t just do exactly what we did last year and expect to have the same result. And it’s not going to be easy by any means. But we’re very hungry as a football team.”
The first test for the defending champs comes from one of their playoff foes from a season ago, the Atlanta Falcons, who visit the Linc on Thursday night. In their last meeting, in the NFC Divisional Round, the Eagles won a defensive slugfest by a score of 15-10.
Zach knows that the Atlanta defense will put he and his teammates through the ringer again on Thursday night. In coverage, Jones, safety Keanu Neal and linebacker De’Vondre Campbell will be primarily responsible for covering No. 86, and while they are a talented group, he feels confident and ready to battle with them on Thursday night.
“They are extremely athletic linebackers, safeties. Really athletic guys. Guys that are established players in the league. De’Vondre Campbell, Deion Jones, Keanu Neal. All established players, all really good players. I’m going to have my hands full with all three of those guys, whoever they put on me,” Ertz said. “But at the same time, I’ve seen them back-to-back years now. We know each other fairly well, so it is going to be a good battle.”
There is also going to be an expected adjustment period for the Eagles offense with some changes in personnel. Fellow tight ends Brent Celek and Trey Burton have departed, replaced by second-round pick Dallas Goedert and former Falcon Joshua Perkins. Additionally, the Eagles head into Thursday’s opener a little thin at wide receiver with Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins expected to miss the game. Offseason addition Mike Wallace will step right in looking to make an impact.
One of those biggest changes to the Eagles offense from their playoff run will eventually be the return of quarterback Carson Wentz to lead the charge. But as Wentz continues making progress in his recovery from a torn ACL suffered last season, the Eagles will once again trot out Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles under center, just like in last year’s playoff matchup with the Falcons.
After taking over for Wentz late last season, Foles targeted No. 86 47 times, which resulted in 37 receptions for 353 and two touchdowns en route to a Super Bowl championship.
The Foles-Ertz connection will be a critical piece of Thursday’s season opener with so many new faces in the lineup. In addition to affecting the pass game against the Falcons, Zach will also be tasked with blocking for Jay Ajayi against a tough, young, physical front seven that is led by Jones, Takkarist McKinley and Vic Beasley. So No. 86 will need to step up against a physical Falcon defense.
Expectations in Philadelphia have skyrocketed, but No. 86 and the rest of the Eagles won’t rest with just one Super Bowl title. Against Atlanta on Thursday, they begin their journey for the city’s second Lombardi Trophy.
Ultimately, the Eagles have the confidence that comes with being Super Bowl champions a season ago. They won the Lombardi Trophy while being doubted the entire way, led by a backup quarterback. Rightfully, they are confident they can continue to win with Foles under center. Especially with the return of left tackle Jason Peters who missed the Super Bowl run after a season-ending knee injury. Zach believes the team has all the talent they need. Their success will simply be a matter of doing what they did all of last season.
“It comes down to execution,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “We have the players and we have a great coaching staff. We just have to be disciplined and focused and do our jobs.”
Kickoff from Philly is set for 8:20 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on NBC.