The Eagles announced today that former Packers tight end, Richard Rodgers, had been placed on injured reserve, prompting the team to re-sign WR Markus Wheaton to fill his spot on the roster. While Rodgers was never going to be a top receiving option, this does open an interesting question that Doug Pederson and Mike Groh will have to gameplan an answer for.
The tight end room has changed dramatically this offseason. The emotions caused by the retirement of Brent Celek and departure of Trey Burton have been balanced by the arrival of Dallas Goedert, but the rookie is primed to be a dominant receiving force, not a blocking replacement for an Eagles legend.
That role, was assuringly given to Richard Rodgers. Although the fifth-year tight end hasn’t exactly become renowned for his blocking, the role of the tight end has changed so much in recent years that it’s almost forced the 6’4, 275 lbs, Cal product into blocking hibernation. With the position getting lighter, thinner and larger as teams seek to emulate the likes of Gronkowski, Ertz and Kelce, blocking tight ends are few and far between. Rodgers had just one drop on 47 targets in 2016, but has never been considered an elite talent because of the changing dynamic at the position.
During his time at Green Bay, his blocking was never really a true strength either, at least after his rookie season. A reliable pass-catcher who leaned on agility over brute strength, Rodgers struggled in the run game and would often be overpowered by explosive linebackers and defensive ends. With Celek gone, the Eagles and Justin Peele sought value in a ‘prove-it’ contract, knowing that #GoedErtz could fly the flag in an extremely rare receiving tight end tandem. Those hopes have now been dashed…but did the Eagles already know what was ahead?
The team did keep Josh Perkins on the roster, which felt like a slightly strange decision at the time. An undrafted free agent in 2016, Perkins stuck onto the Falcons roster as their fourth tight end but was often inactive. When Jacob Tamme suffered an injury in November of last year, Perkins saw his first action on an NFL field. 2 of his 3 career receptions came against the Carolina Panthers and one just so happened to be an eyebrow raising touchdown pass. It’s not like Perkins will be called upon as a receiving option very often due to the sheer presence of Ertz and Goedert, but the Eagles need a blocker, especially for this game.
In their most recent victory over the Falcons in January, the pressure was heaped on Nick Foles. The Eagles mustered just 96 rushing yards, 20 of which came from Nelson Agholor on screen plays. Somehow, Pederson kept his offense balanced, but an unusually stout Atlanta defense was able to tame a backfield brimming with talent.
It’s not like the Falcons are built to be a penetrative run defense. In fact, their main performers in this category are DT Grady Jarrett and S Keanu Neal. The Falcons are instead built to key in on zonal attempts, screen passes and option plays; a trio of concepts that just so happen to be the foundation of Pederson’s offense.
Without Brent Celek (who played in 39% of offensive snaps against Atlanta), the Eagles will have to find new ways to stop the perimeter threats that Atlanta pose and this goes far beyond the opening game of the season. It’s a unique opportunity for Josh Perkins, but it’s not like he has a strong blocking background
The Eagles offensive line is the very best that the NFL has to offer, but do not understate the value of the blocking tight end, especially given that the two prized offensive weapons at the position are not known for their ability to sustain blocks and help the tackles open up the run-game. It will be very interesting to see how Pederson, Groh and even TE Coach, Justin Peele, broach this ahead of this Thursday’s clash with a Falcons offense, who have come a long way since allowing 208 yards on the ground to the Eagles backfield in 2016.
This is a different year, a different breed of defense for Marquand Manuel as he enters his second season as the team’s defensive coordinator. Without a blocking tight end to help get out on screen passes and wide runs, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert are going to have to step up the physicality in these matchups if the backfield is to have any chance of wreaking the havoc we all know it can.
There’s a lot of pressure on Nick Foles this week, who is already without two of his top wide receiving targets. Establishing the run will be key and the loss of Rodgers could be a huge detriment to that plan.
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