Since the Philadelphia Eagles‘ Week 12 bye, co-starting tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz have compiled 22 catches for 293 yards and five touchdowns. On the season, Foles is averaging more than nine yards per attempt when throwing to Celek and Ertz, which is second in the NFL. Perhaps more impressively, Foles has thrown zero interceptions when targeting the tight end.
When Kiffin was hired this spring, he brought the “Tampa 2” defense with him. The Tampa 2 is a version of the Cover 2 zone defense where the safeties are primarily responsible for covering outside receivers, particularly those running deep routes. This leaves linebackers alone to cover intermediate and seam routes. Not surprisingly, opponents have been successful throwing seam passes to the tight end against this scheme. On both run and pass plays, the Tampa 2 requires uncommon speed and agility from the middle linebacker position.
During his days with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kiffin relied upon Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks to play the lynchpin middle linebacker role. This year, Sean Lee, one of the best athletes at the position, was assigned this critical responsibility. He performed well in the Cowboys’ first meeting with the Eagles in Week 7 as he held Brent Celek and Zach Ertz to four catches for 42 yards. Unfortunately, Lee injured his hamstring in Week 10 and was recently placed on season-ending IR with a neck injury. Because a truly special middle linebacker is necessary to effectively execute the Tampa 2, the Cowboys’ defense has collapsed in Lee’s absence. Furthermore, Dallas has been particularly vulnerable to the tight end, allowing 85 receptions for 933 yards to them this season, which is near the bottom of the league.
Without Lee covering tight ends both in the flat and up the seam, look for Nick Foles to frequently target Celek and Ertz. Tight ends’ receptions will likely account for a significant percentage of the Eagles’ passing game production.