BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - Sometimes matchups involved a variety of possibilities, like pass protection or stopping the run. Then there are matchups that can often be boiled down to simple one-on-one battles.
That could very well be the case with today's example, which features Patrick Chung against Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. It's difficult to definitely predict how Bill Belichick is going to employ his personnel, and there will almost certainly be times when the safety gets help, but tight ends have generally been Chung's responsibility this season and that will likely be the case Sunday night.
Ertz is a gifted receiver and he's been a big part of the game plan since Nick Foles took over for the injured Carson Wentz at quarterback. Ertz finished the season with 74 catches for 824 yards and 8 touchdowns despite missing two games. In the postseason he's been even better, catching 11 of 13 targets for 125 yards in the Eagles two victories.
So, what makes Ertz so difficult to deal with the passing game?
"Zach's a good player. He has a lot of skills. Savvy, can run all the routes. We'll try to contain him the best we can," Chung said. "He's big. He has a huge catch radius. He breaks tackles. He has good instincts. He's just a good overall tight ends and he's going to make his plays."
Ertz was particularly dangerous when it mattered most this season. More than half of his catches – 46 – resulted in first downs and he caught 16 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns on third down. Ertz explained how he focuses on excelling on the money down.
"Red zone, third down, I want to be the guy who gets the number called," Ertz said. "I put a lot of pride into what I do as a receiver in those situations -- using my body when we need to make a play."
The Patriots understand this and it wouldn't be surprising to see them double team Ertz in both situations – third down and in the red zone.
"Tough guy. He does a really good job of route-running," fellow safety Devin McCourty said. "If you fall asleep because he ran a route on film once or twice and you think it's coming, like late week with the out-and-up against Minnesota. But he does a really good job of selling his routes. You think he's going one way and he goes another. We've watched a lot of film on him and [tight end Trey] Burton. Both of those guys are tough covers."
The Patriots obviously have done a great job of limiting the opponent's top option consistently in the past, but teams that are more balanced like the Eagles can create more problems. Ertz will be the go-to guy when it counts, however, and how New England fares in that matchup will be key.