From QB play to his contract, a look at what's ailing Eagles' Zach Ertz

Philadelphia Eagles fans and fantasy football managers alike are asking: What is going on with Zach Ertz?

One of the game's most prolific tight ends has been anything but to start the 2020 NFL season, as he is averaging four receptions for 29 yards per game with one touchdown. He's down significantly in almost every statistical category compared to his career averages, including yards per reception (7.3 vs. 10.8) and catch percentage (57.1 vs. 68.1.)

The past two weeks have been particularly fruitless, with Ertz netting five catches for 15 yards total.

"Yeah, I don't know," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said when asked why Ertz is struggling to be productive. "Obviously, defenses know exactly where he is going to be and they'll usually put a corner or a safety [on him], and will sometimes double him. They give him a lot of respect.

"I think he's got to look at himself as we all do, and we've just got to keep working, keep fighting, and as coaches, we have to find ways to get him uncovered so we can use him a little bit more."

It's true Ertz draws plenty of attention from opposing defenses, especially in times like these when the offense is down so many playmakers because of injury. But that was the case last season as well and he still led the team in receptions and yards for the fourth consecutive year.

Is Ertz's contract situation affecting him?

Ertz admitted before the start of the season that he was frustrated with the lack of progress on a new deal, saying while he wants to be in Philadelphia for the rest of his career, he was unsure "whether the feeling is mutual." Reports of a heated exchange with general manager Howie Roseman followed.

Ertz, whose contract expires after the 2021 season, acknowledged he let the situation get the better of him for a portion of training camp.

With the writing seemingly on the wall when it comes to his future in Philadelphia, it's only natural if Ertz, who caught the winning touchdown in Super Bowl LII and is 46 receptions away from passing Pro Football Hall of Famer Harold Carmichael for the most receptions in franchise history, is feeling rejected by an organization that he has given his all to.

But he stopped talking about his contract both privately and publicly once the season began and is said to be locked in. Ertz knows that to get what he's after -- a sweet new contract and some more playoff memories for a city he adores -- he needs to deliver on the field.

Is he slowing down?

Ertz turns 30 in November. Now in his eighth NFL season, it's fair to wonder if the 2013 second-round pick is nearing the back end of his prime.

There has been no notable drop-off in his speed, which consistently tops out just shy of 18 mph, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. His separation on routes is about the same as well -- 2.79 yards on average when the ball arrives this season compared to 2.70 yards in 2019, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

One thing that does stand out: He has only 39 yards after the catch, which ranks 163rd among receivers and 27th among tight ends. His yards after the catch per reception has ticked down from 3.08 in 2018 to 3.01 last season to 1.95 so far this season.

Overall, speed and YAC have never really been his game, and there hasn't been any noticeable drop-off physically.

How much has his QB's play affected him?

Surprisingly, it has been a struggle for Carson Wentz and Ertz to sync up, and that really seems to be the root of the issue.

"Carson and Zach, they have to continue to work," Pederson said. "I haven't seen the ball travel as high towards Zach than it is right now. ... So it's just a little bit of mistiming right now with those two, but I know it's something they will work out and work on each week to get it corrected."

According to Pro Football Focus data, only 21 of Ertz's 33 targets have been catchable. That means Ertz has secured every catchable pass this season except one.

Wentz is targeting Ertz less -- on 19% of his routes this season compared to 26% in 2019 -- and at shorter distances, with the average air yards per target down from 8.59 to 7.06.

While it looks to be improving, Wentz has been inconsistent with his accuracy and decision-making through five games, and that has affected the bottom line for Ertz.

"It's one of those things that I'm not worried about, because as far as chemistry goes, I feel great with Ertz," Wentz said. "We've shown that over the years. That's just the type of day it was [Sunday] and really last week, but I still feel confident that he's going to get open, he's going to get his going forward. We can be better there."

Is there hope for a rebound?

Yes. Ertz entered the season with more catches through the first seven seasons of his career (525) than any other tight end in NFL history. He didn't forget how to play ball overnight. Like Las Vegas Raiders tight end Jason Witten, his game is built more on smarts and precision route running than speed, which should translate into a long, productive career.

He will have more room to operate once speed receivers Jalen Reagor and DeSean Jackson and fellow tight end Dallas Goedert are reintroduced into the offense. Couple that with the fact Wentz is beginning to fight out of his funk, and it seems like a matter of time before Ertz starts seeing better results.