There’s potential danger lurking in Tampa. The Buccaneers are 0-4, have scored only 10.1 points a game, and have a rookie quarterback making only his second career start. But their defense is stout, having held the Saints’ potent offense to 16 points in Week 2. The Bucs could have advantages in several matchups and a scheme designed to give playmakers DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy fits.
Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis has yet to match up against an opponent’s best receiver, but if there was a game for “Revis Island” to make a reappearance this would be it. The Eagles don’t have a competent second option to Jackson at this time, even if tight end Zach Ertz could eventually blossom into one. Riley Cooper has played 90 percent of snaps on offense and has only eight catches for 93 yards and one touchdown. He is the most unproductive starting wide receiver in the NFL.
If Revis can blanket Jackson all by himself for most of the game then the Bucs won’t need to shade a safety toward the receiver. If they can free up a safety then they can have an extra one (Dashon Goldson?) near the box to help slow McCoy. Shady’s cousin, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, may be the best three-technique in the game right now. He will be a difficult assignment for the Eagles interior linemen – center Jason Kelce and guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans.
The Giants were able to slow the Eagles’ bread-and-butter inside zone read run on Sunday by having a quick-off-the-ball tackle slice through the “A” gap and then run a “nut stunt” after Kelce had to compensate for the quickness of Mike Patterson and company. Patterson is quick, but he’s not McCoy quick. The Eagles may have to double McCoy a lot. The Bucs like to run a lot of stunts up front. They also have linebacker Lavonte David, who has pass rushed only 28 times this season, but has a team-high five sacks and eight hurries. That’s amazing production. The Eagles offensive line has been shaky the last three games. They’ll face a tough test in Tampa.
That doesn’t mean the Eagles can’t have success on offense. Nick Foles is expected to make his first start of the season, but he performed admirably in place of the injured Michael Vick at the Giants and was productive when the Eagles crossed midfield. The Birds have been snake bitten in the red zone. Foles may not be a savior inside the 20, but as long as he avoids turnovers the Eagles should have the opportunity to put up some points.
The Bucs, meanwhile, have yet to post more than 17 points in a game. They’re second-to-last in the league in points and yards. Josh Freeman has been jettisoned, but rookie Mike Glennon is very much a work in progress. The 6-foot-7 quarterback wasn’t a disaster in his first start against the Cardinals, but he completed only 55.3 percent of his passes and tossed two fourth quarter interceptions, the first being turned into a touchdown that allowed Arizona to tie the game and the second essentially ending the game. The Cards blitzed Glennon on 22 of 45 drops and he struggled, completing only 7 of 21 passes for 56 yards. He did toss one touchdown, but both picks came against the blitz.
Former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson used to make it mandatory that young quarterbacks would see extra pass rushers. Bill Davis is likely to send various packages at the N.C. State product, but also an assortment of disguises and fakes to confuse Glennon.
The Bucs will likely attempt to establish Doug Martin in the early going, but it’s been a rough start for the second-year running back. He’s averaging just 3.4 yards a carry. The Eagles did fine work against the Giants running game last week, but Martin is more elusive than either David Wilson or Brandon Jacobs.
If Tampa can force the Eagles to key on stopping a successful Martin then that should give a competent group of receivers, including Vincent Jackson (17 catches for 292 yards), some space in the secondary.
Glennon is the wild card. If the Eagles can get to him or confuse him enough, they should hold the Bucs under 20. As much success as the Cardinals had blitzing Glennon, the Eagles don’t have anywhere near the defense Arizona does. I don’t think they’ll get there enough.
Prediction: Bucs 23, Eagles 21
What goes right: McCoy gets back on track and goes over 100 yards rushing.
What goes wrong: The Eagles secondary is back to looking like, well, the Eagles secondary.
After the Eagles’ humiliating loss in Denver dropped them to 1-3, the silver lining was that their next two games were against winless opponents. And come nightfall on Sunday, the Eagles will no longer have a losing record.
This is not necessarily an easy matchup for the Eagles, but it’s a favorable one. They lose this game if Nick Foles struggles, which is not out of the realm of possibility. Tampa Bay will focus on stopping LeSean McCoy and force Foles to beat them. They have not always allowed Darrelle Revis to follow the opposing team’s top receiver, but I’d be surprised if he’s not following DeSean Jackson around the field. The Eagles need a secondary receiving option, and particularly their tight ends. Tampa Bay has strong safeties, so that’s easier said than done, but those safeties must also worry about McCoy. Look for the Eagles to involve McCoy in the passing game, too. In that sense, it could be similar to when the Eagles played San Diego.
On defense, the Eagles will try to vary their looks to flummox rookie Mike Glennon. The bye week might help Glennon, but this is still a favorable matchup for the Eagles. If Carl Nicks is out, that will be a major loss for Tampa Bay’s offensive line. The Eagles will use a similar game plan in their secondary to last week, trying to keep the Bucs from beating them in the vertical game. Doug Martin is a talented running back, but it won’t be enough to outscore the Eagles.
For the second consecutive season, Foles is a winner in Tampa Bay. It will be interesting to see how well he plays, and whether that would prompt Kelly to think twice about the quarterback situation next week. I still think Vick is the best option for this team, but injury always means opportunity for the backup. One thing Chip Kelly is correct about: If Foles plays well, that’s a good problem to have.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Bucs 14
What goes right: McCoy is the Eagles’ leading receiver. The Eagles defense forces two turnovers.
What goes wrong: McCoy doesn’t have a big day rushing. The Eagles still struggle scoring touchdowns in the red zone.