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Eagle Eye: Eagles-Buccaneers predictions
Doug Martin rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries against the Eagles in 2012. (USA Today Images)
Tampa Bay’s offense isn’t very fancy or complex. It’s not nearly as diverse as the offenses the Eagles have seen the past two weeks from the Giants and Broncos.
But what the Bucs lack in guile and creativity they compensate with dangerous skill position players in second-year running back Doug Martin and big, imposing wide receiver Vincent Jackson.
The Bucs offense begins with Martin, the explosive halfback from Boise State who last year rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns. Already, Martin has carried the ball 100 times, tops in the league, and his 85.6 rushing yards per game are third-most in the NFL for halfbacks with at least 15 carries.
Jackson has just 292 yards and hasn’t found the end zone yet, but the Eagles know what he can do. Last year, he caught six passes for 131 yards and a touchdown against them in an early December game. He’s 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, providing a nice target for quarterbacks, especially in the red zone.
Despite two A-plus offensive weapons and an athletic offensive line, the Bucs are winless because of instability at quarterback. Josh Freeman regressed under second-year coach Greg Schiano, leading to a messy divorce last week after the team had benched him two weeks ago in favor of rookie Mike Glennon.
Glennon, a good-looking prospect out of N.C. State, has a really big arm, but he’s not ready to be a full-time starter in the NFL. There’s a reason he lasted until the third round of the draft despite being the third-best quarterback in a weak rookie class.
Glennon made his starting debut against the Cardinals and passed for 193 yards and a touchdown along with two picks in a 13-10 loss. They kept the offense simple, with slant routes and mid-range stuff, working mostly off play-action. Glennon had the Bucs leading 10-0 in the fourth but was picked off twice by Patrick Peterson in the final three minutes, with the turnovers leading to 13 points for Arizona.
The Eagles’ first responsibility Sunday will be stopping Martin, who’ll be the best running back they’ve faced this year and probably the best they confront until Adrian Peterson in December. The 5-foot-9, 223-pound back runs with great leverage and has good breakaway speed when he gets into the second level.
The Bucs aren’t following the NFL trend of running out of nickel offenses (three wide, one tight end) that pass to set up the run. They frequently come out in heavy sets with two backs and one tight end or two backs and two tight ends. Occasionally, they throw an extra offensive tackle onto the field to get heavier. The status of Pro Bowl right guard Carl Nicks is uncertain, as Nicks is reportedly dealing with a recurrence of MRSA in his foot.
Their heavy packages will keep the Eagles in base defense more so than usual, which means cornerback Brandon Boykin won’t see as many snap. The Bucs do put Jackson in the slot when they go three wide, so when Boykin gets on the field, he has a monumental assignment.
The Eagles haven’t really been tested by a run-first offense. The Giants, Broncos and Chargers were pass-first teams. The Chiefs mixed the run well but attacked with an intermediary passing game. The Redskins were supposed to test the Eagles’ rushing defense but fell behind too quickly and were forced to respond through their air.
Figure on seeing a lot Cedric Thornton and Isaac Sopoaga in three- and four-man lines. Thornton has been alternating between defensive end and nose tackle. Sopoaga’s role varies, but he played better against the Giants and is one of the team’s go-to guys in run defense.
Glennon registered an 18.7 passer rating against the blitz against Arizona, according to Pro Football Focus, so look for coordinator Billy Davis to come after the rookie in third-and-long scenarios. The Cards had success with linebacker blitzes, so figure on Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans being active again in the “A” gaps. The interior of Tampa’s offensive line can be beaten. Both linebackers were a big part of the pass rush that helped produce three Eli Manning interceptions last week.
The Eagles put so much emphasis on stopping the deep ball against the Giants that they gave up yards across the middle on quick outs and slants. Jackson is really the only deep threat on Tampa, so the Eagles can afford to be more creative in how they attack.
For more on how the Eagles' offense mtaches up against the Buccaneers' defense, click here.