It’s a war as old as time, or 2015, depending on how far back your memory goes. For the past four seasons, the match-up between Zach Ertz and Landon Collins has been high quality viewing. The two have so much respect between them that they’ve exchanged jerseys after games.
Collins may have walked out of New York, but his new 6-year, $84M deal with Washington means the rivalry can continue two times a year. The two are simply meant to be together. This Sunday, they’ll meet again for their ninth tilt with many more to come.
The war started off with a bang. As a fresh-faced rookie, Collins grabbed his first career interception while covering Ertz, likely due to a bad read from Sam Bradford, but it was also well done from Collins.
Ertz gets a solid release; he widens his early stem against outside leverage, then utilizes both his hands to knock away and swipe down on Collins’ inside hand. The problem is, there’s safety help, so Ertz doesn’t quite stack Collins, who transitions to a trail technique while still maintaining outside leverage.
As soon as Collins sinks into position he looks back for the ball, tracks it well, and high points it for a contested interception. There’s not much Ertz could do about it other then try to play defender. With ball skills like that, it’s hard for me to label Collins as just a “box safety”.
Since Collins has entered the league, Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterbacks have found great success targeting Ertz when they’ve played the New York Giants. They’ve combined for a stat line of 51 of 62 (82.3%), 573 yards, 9.2 Y/A, 4 TD, 1 INT, and a clean 120 QB Rating. That doesn’t tell the whole story, however.
“Landon Collins has had Zach Ertz’s number over their last four meetings, holding Ertz to 50 scoreless yards on nine targets when matched up.” – Evan Silva, Establish The Run
So, that’s not great for Ertz. What helps is having a scheme the frequently presents Ertz with favorable matchups. In those same four meetings, Ertz averages 9 targets, 7 catches, 61 yards and 1 touchdown. That’s a solid day at the office for any tight end.
What that means is this article might be less about the Collins vs. Ertz match-up and more about how the Eagles can avoid that match-up. The Eagles do this by hiding Ertz in “double on the ball” two tight end sets, in bunch formations, in the slot, on backside isolations, and sometimes by just lining him up on the opposite side.
For example, this Week 6 touchdown came from a 13 personnel set with a shift that got Collins on a running back while Ertz streaked by cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
In this case, Ertz took advantage of Jackrabbit’s aggressive nature by getting him to bite inside. Jenkins likely figures the balls going to come out at the top of the drop and is toasted by the longer developing corner route.
That’s not to say that the Eagles absolutely must hide Ertz; he still gets his fair shares of wins. Collins has spoken about his challenges with Ertz before, telling ESPN that “he just gets open”. He also talked about how Ertz will push off at the top of his route and the need to avoid or deflect those maneuvers. He’s even asked teammates to “manhandle” him at the line of scrimmage in practice to simulate the upcoming battle. It’s not without merit, as Ertz isn’t afraid to apply some veteran savvy to his breaks.
Pro Football Focus projects Washington free safety Montae Nicholson as the man who’ll take on Ertz for the majority of the snaps. Other specialists like dime ‘backer Josh Harvey-Clemons should find himself tasked with bottling up the elite route runner at times. The most interesting battle is still Ertz vs. Collins, for both the quality and the history between them.