It sure seemed like the Eagles were catching a break when I first saw Tampa Bay on the schedule. The Buccaneers will be searching for their first win of the season on Sunday. They’re mostly in the news these days because of a messy divorce with their former franchise quarterback. From an outsider’s perspective, they appear to be dysfunctional both on and off the field.
But as it turns out, the Bucs aren’t as feeble as their record would have you believe, so don’t go marking a W on your oversized Miller Lite Eagles schedule just yet. Going on the road to face a team coming off of a bye is always dangerous, but a team that is probably feeling a bit desperate and disrespected these days? Look out.
This is not as “easy” of a game as it might have appeared. The Eagles are only 2-point favorites for a reason, and fans should be very leery about the possibility for an upset this Sunday.
Playing close games
They may have similar records, but the Bucs are not the Giants exactly.
New York’s rampant turnovers and porous defense have led to their being blown out or at least beaten by multiple scores most weeks this season. Tampa Bay on the other hand has been involved in several close games. Three of their four losses were decided by a combined six points.
The Eagles can’t approach this game as if they are going to walk all over the Bucs. As long as Tampa Bay continues holding opponents to 17.5 points per game—eighth-lowest total in the NFL—they have a chance to beat anybody.
Philadelphia may have one of the most prolific offenses in the league—second in yards (454.8), eighth in points (27)—but as we’re about to delve into, the Buccaneers defense actually matches up quite well. Plus, while Nick Foles may be a high-end backup with starter potential, there’s no denying the Birds lose some of their explosiveness with Michael Vick out of the lineup.
The concern is the Eagles are going to be caught in a low-scoring affair this week, one in which one big play one way or the other could swing the outcome.
Can shut down the opposing team’s running game
Tampa Bay finished 2012 with the top rushing defense in the NFL, holding opponents to 82.5 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry. With Vick and LeSean McCoy out of the lineup, the Eagles managed just 29 yards on the ground in a meeting against the Bucs last season—27 of those coming from Nick Foles.
While they’re not ranked number one through four games, it’s basically been more of the same. Tampa is still only conceding 94.2 YPG with an average of 3.7 per attempt, both tied for eighth.
The Eagles may have Shady in the lineup this time around, but it hasn’t been so easy for the All-Pro back the past couple weeks. Denver’s No. 1 run defense limited McCoy to 73 yards on 16 carries in Week 4, then in last Sunday’s win over New York he was held to -2 yards on eight tries once Vick exited the game.
Vick’s likely absence doesn’t mean McCoy can’t have success on the ground, but a mobile quarterback certainly helps to open things up. Even if he plays though, expect Tampa Bay to be stingy against Philly's ground attack.
They have a shutdown corner
When DeSean Jackson is involved in the passing game, the offense looks good. The Eagles are scoring 33 points per game when Djacc goes off for at least seven receptions, 100 yards and a touchdown this season, while the club’s record is 2-1 in those games.
Unfortunately, the offense has not fared as well when Jackson is matched up against better cornerbacks. Kansas City’s Brandon Flowers and Denver’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were able keep the diminutive wide receiver at bay—5 REC, 96 YDS, 0 TD in two games. Not surprisingly, the Birds’ suffered as a result, averaging 14.5 points and losing both.
Now Jackson faces his toughest test to date in All-World defensive back Darrelle Revis, the top shutdown corner in the game. When the two last met with Revis a member of the New York Jets in 2011, DeSean hauled in just two passes for 28 yards.
Without Jeremy Maclin on the opposite side of the field, what we’ve seen when Jackson is erased as an option is Philly’s offense vanishes along with him. Nobody else has stepped up as viable No. 2 target, and if that happens again this week in Tampa Bay, the Eagles could be in serious trouble.
Numerous Pro Bowlers
The Bucs are actually loaded with star players capable of breaking out at any given moment. Revis and safety Dashon Goldson can swing the momentum with one big interception. Chip Kelly thinks Gerald McCoy might be the best 3-technique defensive lineman in the NFL.
On the other side of the ball, Vincent Jackson is third among all active receivers averaging 17.8 yards per reception, which can flip field position or light up a scoreboard in a hurry. And Doug Martin ran for 1,454 yards last season behind an offensive line that features three Pro Bowlers.
How quickly could the Eagles’ fortunes change on Sunday if any one of these stars finds themselves in the zone? If the game is tight, it may only take one or two plays from a special player to put the Bucs out in front.
Mike Glennon had an extra week to prepare
The best thing the Eagles have going for them is third-round pick Mike Glennon will be making his second career start under center for the Bucs. For all we know, Glennon may possess the skill to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, but right now he’s just another unimpressive rookie.
In Week 4 against Arizona, Glennon completed 24 of 43 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown, but heaved two interceptions late in the fourth quarter to choke the game away. He’s at a point right now where he probably needs to worry about managing games, not winning them.
Then again, Tampa Bay is coming off of that bye, which means the coaching staff has had extra time to draw up a game plan specifically for Glennon. The Bucs’ offense is going to have new wrinkles the Eagles haven’t seen on tape before, and the NC State product may catch the defense by surprise.
After all, while Philadelphia’s D probably isn’t as bad as their rankings would suggest—31st in the NFL—we’re all aware they have shortcomings. Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning both have been able to completely expose the Eagles this season.
I don’t think we’ll see an elite or Hall of Fame caliber performance from Glennon, but if he can avoid turning the ball over, the coaches should be able to put him in a situation where he can succeed. This alone would make the Bucs a dangerous opponent this week, but as you can see they have a lot more going for them than a little extra preparation.