Eagles Believe Ertz Will Draw Belichick Attention
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Opposing teams never really know what Bill Belichick has planned for them other than his goal of trying to make any offense uncomfortable.
If you are looking for one signature to the DNA of the NFL's best coach, however, it's probably the idea that he attempts to take away your best playmaker to force lesser players to step up and perform, something Eagles coach Doug Pederson agreed with.
"It's true," the Eagles coach said Wednesday when asked about Belichick's modus operandi in advance of Sunday's matchup between the Pats and Philadelphia. "Just go watch the Kansas City game last year, the AFC championship game. The guy that wears No. 10 [Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill] for Kansas City, watch him. He made some plays in the game. Go back and watch Detroit against us this year, same style of defense.
"It's a real thing. It's a real thing."
If you want to use the word "typically" regarding Belichick, though, you do it at your own peril because the six-time Super Bowl-winning coach often channels legendary pro wrestling villain "Rowdy" Roddy Piper who was famed for saying: "Just when you think you have the answers, I change the questions."
In this case, the Eagles believe they understand goal No. 1 of top-ranked defense in the NFL.
"We know our team, and our roster," Pederson smiled. "We kind of know who our guys are. It probably doesn't take too much energy and thinking to know who the guys are offensively. We'll have a pretty good idea [of who the Pats want to take away}."
Based on the way long-time Belichick lieutenant Matt Patricia, now the head coach in Detroit, played against Philadelphia earlier this season the guessing begins and ends with No. 86, tight end Zach Ertz.
"He's pretty good," Belichick said Wednesday when discussing Ertz. "He's really good at everything. In the passing game, man routes, he can get open against a variety of defenders. He's a tough guy to match up against. He's got a good feel in zone coverage for spacing and when to do the right thing – when to slow down, when to speed up, when to go behind or in front of, how to adjust his routes and so forth."
The Lions often bracketed Ertz in an attempt to force Carson Wentz to look elsewhere and that will likely be Belichick's plan as well especially with Alshon Jeffery dealing with a balky ankle suffered in Week 9 against Chicago. Jeffery missed practice on Wednesday and was listed as day-to-day by Pederson.
"They move him around a lot," Belichick said of Ertz. "He's in a lot of different positions. Until they come out of the huddle, it's hard to really know where he's going to be. He lines up in the tight end traditional location, but not a high, high percentage of the time. He's in different spots. They use a couple different personnel groups, so you have to find him within each group."
Knowing what New England wants to do and how it's going to accomplish it can often be two separate things. One of the strengths of the current incarnation of the Pats is Stephon Gilmore and without top-tier receivers to worry about Belichick could earmark his lockdown cornerback to take out a TE or he might bracket Ertz like Patricia did and instruct Gilmore to shut down one side of the field.
"That's what makes his defenses tough to play against because what it does then, ... the other 10 guys have to step up and play," Pederson said. "If he's going to try to take away Zach, Nelly [WR Nelson Agholor], Alshon, whoever it might be, the other 10 guys, or at least those skill guys have to step up and play, and make plays for the offense."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen