You remember the game “Where’s Waldo?” where you have to look for Waldo amongst a crowd of people? Well on the football field there isn’t a crowd of people, but instead 22 players battling on the gridiron. However, throughout the entire Eagles season I have found myself playing a Philadelphia Eagles version of “Where’s Waldo?” to the tune of “Where’s Brent Celek?”
It was last season that Eagles fans watched Brent Celek break out of his shell and emerge as one of the most dominant tight ends in the game. He is a blue-collar player that prides himself on hard work and determination. He isn’t the biggest or the strongest at his position. He isn’t the fastest and doesn’t have the best hands. However, he will outwork and outhustle players in order to better his team. Those are the qualities that Eagles fans saw in Celek during his breakout Pro-Bowl caliber season in 2009.
As we sit here 11 weeks into the season, we have yet to see the Brent Celek that we were all so hopeful to watch this season. Many hoped that he was going to add a new dimension to the Eagles receiving core after last season and solidify himself as one of the top five tight ends in football. Instead, Celek has a mere 23 receptions for 237 yards and two touchdowns through 11 games. These numbers pale in comparison to 2009.
Last year, Celek had 22 receptions through the first three games. In those games he also recorded 245 receiving, which is 8 more yards than he has during the 2010 campaign. Through 11 games last season, his numbers were exponentially better than this year, as he had 54 receptions for 601 yards and five touchdowns. He eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark three times in 2009 and the 50-yard mark eight times. This season, his most yards in a game came against San Francisco when he finished with 47. In 2009, he had 80 receptions and had at least two catches in every game. In 2010, he is on pace for only 37 receptions and has been held without a catch in two games (Giants last week and Colts three weeks ago).
What has led to this sudden slump for Celek? Is he underperforming? Does a change of quarterbacks make that much of a difference? I believe it is a combination of both.
The different styles between Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick could definitely play a role in the lack of production by Celek. When Michael Vick is the starting quarterback, Celek has 9 receptions for 77 yards whereas when Kevin Kolb is the starting quarterback, he has 14 receptions for 160 yards (Not including the Packers game and the Washington Redskins game because they split time due to injuries). With Vick’s big-play style of offense that revolves largely around his legs, Celek becomes less of an option. Kolb, who runs more of a west coast style of offense with quick, short passes, often looks to Celek more over the middle. Much like Donovan McNabb, Kolb enjoys going to the tight end when in trouble and facing pressure. Vick on the other hand uses his legs to overcome pressure and does a better job finding his wide receivers on the run.
Another explanation for his low numbers could be the inconsistent play from the offensive line. Celek may not be targeted as often because he is forced to spend more time blocking and protecting the quarterback. When he releases after the initial block, his route is sometimes useless because Vick has already taken off running or Kolb was too quick to release the ball.
Looking at the positive, Celek’s lack of production has resulted in an increase in production from the Eagles wide receivers. DeSean Jackson is on pace to his first Pro-Bowl as a wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin has established himself as one of the most consistent young receivers in the league, and Jason Avant is getting a more expanded role in the slot.
Clearly the Eagles passing offense hasn’t been struggling this year, especially under Michael Vick. However, I believe the offense could be even more explosive if Celek can get more involved. The combination of getting more looks and Celek taking advantage of those looks will add an entirely new dimension to the already dominant Eagles offense. Can he rebound down the stretch or will Celek continue to be nonexistent on the stat line? Let’s hope it’s the former.