After righting the ship and getting their season back on track with a pair of convincing wins, Zach Ertz and the Philadelphia Eagles (3-2) know that their biggest challenges lay ahead. This week they fly into Viking territory to take on another NFC contender, the Minnesota Vikings, who also sit at 3-2 entering Week 6.
Though not a division rival, Minnesota is a very familiar foe. The two teams have played each other each of the last three years, including a playoff battle two years ago, which the Eagles won on the way to their Super Bowl victory. Minnesota got a small measure of revenge with a 23-21 win in Philly last fall.
“We know each other extremely well,” Zach said. “I think everyone understands the strengths of their defense and they understand all the strengths of our offense. It’s just like a division game at this point. We play each other so much each and every year that we know each other extremely well. At the end of the day, everything’s going to be about execution. I’m excited for Sunday.”
No. 86 enters Sunday’s game with some personal momentum after nabbing his first touchdown of the season in last week’s 31-6 win over the New York Jets. All told, quarterback Carson Wentz connected with Zach five times for a team-leading 57 yards, including the 11-yard touchdown strike to close out the first half.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 6, 2019
With injuries plaguing the Philadelphia receiving corps early on in 2019, No. 86 has once again emerged as a steady target for Wentz in the high-powered Eagles offense. Heading into week six, Zach leads the team in receptions (29), yards (312) and targets (42). He has also caught 69 percent of his targets in 2019.
The seventh-year tight end has accounted for approximately 27% of Carson Wentz’s 1,152 total passing yards and nearly 28% of Wentz’s total completions. Additionally, Zach ranks second on the team in terms of yards per game, behind only DeSean Jackson, who hasn’t seen the field since week two due to a lingering injury. His 10.8 yards per reception ranks fourth on the team.
In four games against the Vikings during his career, Ertz has hauled in 25 receptions for 274 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He has also caught 80 percent of the balls thrown in his direction during that span. The Eagles are 2-2 in those four contests. Most notably, last season, Zach had 10 catches for 110 yards against Minnesota as the Vikings defense struggled to contain him.
Minnesota has been inconsistent against tight ends this season. They held division rivals Green Bay and Chicago in check, but Atlanta’s Austin Hooper had nine catches for 77 yards against them in Week 1 and Oakland’s Darren Waller went off for 13 catches and 134 yards in Week 3. However the Vikings can boast that they have yet to allow a tight end touchdown through five weeks.
Much like the Eagles, inconsistent has been the best word to describe Minnesota’s play throughout the first five weeks of 2019. They are, however, coming off their best showing of the season, a 28-10 victory over the rejuvenated New York Giants in week five.
The ground game has been an obvious bright spot for Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski. Minnesota’s rushing offense is averaging 166.4 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry, both of which rank top-three in the NFL. Third-year running back Dalvin Cook already has four 100-yard games to his credit this year and is the primary back within the system, but he will not be the only concern for the Eagles defense.
“Man, they’re making big plays everywhere, it’s not just Dalvin Cook,” said Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz. That rookie [Alexander] Mattison is a good running back [Ameer] Abdullah – They’ve got four running backs that are averaging 5.7, 5.8, 5.9 and then 9.3 [yards] a carry. That will get your attention real quick. We’re a pretty strong run defense, they’re a pretty strong run offense, that’s going to be a great match on Sunday.”
Stopping Cook and the rest of the Vikings’ backs will be a tall order, but if there is a defense that can do it, it is that of the Eagles. On the season, the Philadelphia defense has held opposing running backs to just 63 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry. Those averages rank first and second in the NFL respectively.
Philadelphia is also coming off a dominant showing by the defense, complete with 10 sacks and two defensive touchdowns in last week’s win over the Jets. If the Eagles can produce points on defense, as they did last week, they stand a good chance of coming out on top. Last week, linebacker Nathan Gerry and cornerback Orlando Scandrick got the better of Jets quarterback Luke Falk. For Gerry, it was a pick-six and for Scandrick it was a strip-sack, also returned in a touchdown.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 6, 2019
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 8, 2019
But head coach Doug Pederson knows that Philadelphia will have to bring it this week against a tough playoff-contending foe.
“We just focus [on] one at a time, honestly.” Pederson said. “We are focused on the Vikings this week. This is a really good opponent, good test, good defense, good offense. They are well coached, they’re a disciplined group.”
Kickoff from Minnesota is set for 1pm ET and the game can be seen on FOX.