Caution: 5 reasons the Tampa Bay Bucs could upset the Eagles

Caution: 5 reasons the Tampa Bay Bucs could upset the Eagles

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.

Eagles Inactives: Bennie Logan (groin) out vs. Vikings

Eagles Inactives: Bennie Logan (groin) out vs. Vikings

Eagles defensive tackle Bennie Logan (groin) is inactive for the team’s game against the Vikings at the Linc on Sunday afternoon.

Logan missed practice all week but was listed as questionable and was said to be a game-time decision. Beau Allen will start in his place, but the Eagles will likely use more Allen, Fletcher Cox, Destiny Vaeao and Vinny Curry at tackle.

While Logan is inactive, Ron Brooks (calf), Leodis McKelvin (hamstring) and Mychal Kendricks (ribs) are all active. The trio was listed as questionable coming into the weekend.

Joining Logan among the inactive players are: OL Dillon Gordon, OL Josh Andrews, OL Isaac Seumalo, CB C.J. Smith, S Terrence Brooks and WR Bryce Treggs.

Despite Tregg’s getting extended reps this week in practice, he’s still not playing.

For the Vikings, wideout Stefon Diggs (groin), who was listed as questionable, is active.

Vikings inactives: WR Laquon Treadwell, WR Jarius Wright, LB Kentrell Brothers, C Nick Easton, G Willie Beavers, DT Sharrif Floyd, TE MyCole Pruitt.

Union-Red Bulls 5 things: Aim to finish strong against streaking New York

Union-Red Bulls 5 things: Aim to finish strong against streaking New York

Union vs. New York Red Bulls
4 p.m. on TCN 

Having all but officially made the postseason for the first time since 2011, the Union, who are already locked into a first-round road match, could rest players Sunday in the season finale against the New York Red Bulls (15-9-9). But that doesn’t mean the Union (11-13-9) will be mailing it in.

Here are five things to know.

1. Playoff recovery
The Union had hope that last Sunday’s home match against mathematically eliminated Orlando City SC would work as a slump buster, breaking the club’s five-game winless run. 

Instead, with a 2-0 loss, it just extended the Union’s slump to six.

“We had a good meeting with the group, we talked a lot about accountability,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Everybody does have to look in the mirror.”

With their last win coming in late August, the Union seem fresh out of ideas. Passing up the ripe opportunity to gain confidence against Orlando City, the club must now host the best team in the Eastern Conference as a pre-playoff test.

“We shot ourselves in the foot in a big spot and we came up a little short,” said Curtin, whose club flubbed an outside chance to host a first-round game and will be on the road regardless of Sunday’s outcome. “It’s the past, though. We have to look forward to the challenge that Red Bulls will present. They are the perfect team to play in terms of a tuneup, to get up to speed with the tempo of a playoff game. It’ll be good for our guys, we’ll use that to get prepared.”

2. Refreshing the lineup
Because Sunday’s match comes just days before the Union’s midweek postseason game, Curtin could look to rest some starters against the Red Bulls, especially the injured ones.

“There are discussions,” he said. “You have to do what’s best. Maybe it’s a new face, a change or a tweak. We won’t change our formation, we won’t change the style that we play but maybe there’s a new body that comes out on the field and gives us a little bit of a lift.”

But Curtin’s team doesn’t just need a lift, it needs healthy bodies. C.J. Sapong suffered a concussion against Orlando City and will likely sit out Saturday. If he does, Charlie Davies could see a chunk of playing time. Davies has only played 81 minutes in eight games since being acquired by the Union in August.

Tranquillo Barnetta and Chris Pontius are also banged up with lower-body ailments.

“Charlie’s been a little bit sharper each day in training,” Curtin said. “It’s tough to forget that he as recently as a month and a half ago was beating cancer so, the sharpness and the fitness is starting to come back. He wants to start, he wants to play, like any striker does, but we have to be smart about what makes the most sense for the team to get a result this weekend.”

3. Mighty Red Bulls
With the Red Bulls already locked into a first-round playoff bye, claiming the top seed in the East, they could float into Sunday’s match like it’s an exhibition — resting starters and providing minimal effort. 

But while riding an unbeaten streak that dates back to early July, the Red Bulls aren’t likely to pull their foot off the gas just yet.

“It’s a challenging game for us,” Curtin said. “It’ll be a high tempo, playoff atmosphere. With Red Bull already securing their bye, I envision them playing their full-strength lineup because they don’t want to rest guys for two weeks, and then you could have some rust. We expect their best.”

Though the Red Bulls want to keep things moving Sunday, the Union also want to finish the season strong. Although the match doesn’t hold the importance it could have for either club, Curtin’s team, winless since late August, is grasping for anything it can to catapult itself into the postseason with momentum. 

“We want to finish the season the right way for our fans,” Curtin said. “We want to come out with some confidence after the game.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Union: With Sapong hobbled from a concussion, Sunday’s match could put Charlie Davies’ effort on display. The forward, who has been seldom used as he regains conditioning after beating cancer earlier in the year, was acquired by the Union for this exact scenario — providing quality attacking depth.

Red Bulls: Although the match is practically meaningless for the Red Bulls, it could mean something for Bradley Wright-Phillips. The 31-year striker could claim his second golden boot in three seasons. He currently leads MLS with 23 goals — one ahead of David Villa. He has a goal and an assist against the Union this season and 11 goals in his last nine games.

5. This and that
• The Union are 0-1-1 against the Red Bulls this season but did score a win in the U.S. Open Cup round of 16.

• The result of Sunday’s match will leave the Union with one of three postseason road opponents — New York City FC, Montreal Impact and D.C. United. The match will be played the following Wednesday or Thursday.

• With a win on Sunday, the Union would match a club-high in wins with 12 — a record set in 2013.