Eagles' Celek catches on against Cowboys

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Tight end Brent Celek caught seven balls for 94 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown, on Sunday night. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

IN THE Eagles' season-opening win over the Rams, Brent Celek caught just one pass for 13 yards, but had a big block that helped spring LeSean McCoy on a game-clinching, 49-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run.

Guess which one of those two things most people dwelled on after the game? That's right: the one catch.

Two years ago, Celek caught 76 passes for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns and everybody figured he would bang out those kind of numbers annually.

But last year, with the right side of the line leaking like a sieve, Celek had to spend a lot more time as a blocker than a receiver. His catch total dropped from 76 to 42, his receiving yards from 971 to 511 and his touchdown receptions from eight to four.

This year, the line is better, but it's also new. That coupled with the fact that coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg have stumbled upon this whacky new way to move the ball – handing it off to running back LeSean McCoy, who rushed for a career-high 185 yards on a career-high 30 carries in last night's 34-7 win over the Cowoboys - has meant that Celek still is spending a good portion of his time as a blocker.

"A lot depends on the defense and what they're doing against us," Mornhinweg said recently. "Are they blitzing a lot? And a lot depends on the plays we want to run. There are a lot of factors in it.

"Brent has always been an excellent, high-level player in all aspects of the game. He is a fine inline blocker. He's very good out in space blocking, too, and he's very good in the pass game. The [receptions], that's a little bit cyclical. But there will be certain games where I hope that will occur and his numbers will be up a little bit."

After catching just nine passes in the first five games, the cycle started to turn in Celek's direction 2 weeks ago in the Eagles' 20-13, pre-bye win over the Redskins. He was targeted a season-high nine times by Michael Vick in that game and finished with four catches for 42 yards and his first touchdown reception of the season.

In last night's romp over the Cowboys, Celek had an even bigger game. Targeted nine times again by Vick, he had a season-high seven receptions for 94 yards and another touchdown.

"It all depends on what the defense gives us," Celek said. "If they're blitzing a lot, there are times when I've got to stay in [and block]. Because if I don't stay in, there's going to be a guy coming free at Mike [Vick].

"Tonight they were were playing a lot of Cover 2 [two deep safeties]. When they do that, then you've got to kind of take advantage of them on the inside. And that's what we did tonight."

While Celek had his best receiving game of the season, he also had another solid game as a blocker, including a first-quarter wham block on linebacker DeMarcus Ware that sprung McCoy for a 34-yard gain and set up the running back's 2-yard touchdown run on the next play.

Celek goes with the flow. He never complained when his role became more blocker than receiver last year or early this year. He'll do whatever Reid and Mornhinweg need him to do.

"You've just got to go out there and do what you can do," he said. "If you try to play outside those means, you're not going to do well. I have a certain job to do on every play. My goal is to do that to the best of my ability. If that's blocking, then I'm going to try to dominate the guy. If it's running routes, I'm going to try to get open."

Said Mornhinweg: "He'll be fine. He understands that we have LeSean, DeSean [Jackson], Jeremy [Maclin], Jason [Avant] and Steve Smith now. We have a lot of guys and one guy's number might be up for one game and another guy's might be up for the next. We're not concerned about that. The players aren't concerned about that. It's whatever it takes."

Celek's first catch last night came on the Eagles' second possession, when he caught a second-and-9 pass over the middle for a 19-yard gain. Four plays later, he sealed off Ware on McCoy's long run.

On the Eagles' third possession, he was part of a beautifully executed screen pass on a second-and-7 play, selling a block on Ware then taking the pass from Vick 15 yards to the Dallas 31.

Four plays later, he beat linebacker Bradie James on an inside route into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown catch. James was covering Celek because linebacker Sean Lee was out of the game with a hand injury. But Celek said the Eagles would've run the same play – and been successful with it – regardless of which linebacker was covering him.

"Whoever was there we were going to run it against them," he said. "It didn't matter [who it was]. I'm confident we would've gotten [the touchdown] either way."

Celek had two more receptions on the Eagles' fourth scoring drive of the first half – an 8-yard catch for a first down out of a three-wide receiver formation, then a little later, a 22-yard reception out of a two-tight end set.

The Eagles have used a lot more two-tight end sets with Celek and Clay Harbor than they did last season. In their first six games, 114 of their 406 offensive plays featured two tight ends. In the first half last night, 15 of their 38 plays were out of two-tight end sets.

The formation has been a big reason for McCoy's rushing success this season, particularly against 3-4 fronts where the wham block has been so effective.

"Our tight ends blocked great tonight," Reid said. "Clay did a heck of a job along with Brent."

 


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