Eagles-Bucs Preview: Do the Bucs Stop Here?
Before the season started, the Philadelphia Eagles were favored to win the NFC East and were even in the Super Bowl conversation. Meanwhile, the rebuilding Tamp Bay Buccaneers were expected to finish last in their division, while their rookie quarterback learned the NFL. Well, here we are in Week 11 and both teams are 4-5. Go figure.
The Bucs are doing better than expected, while all the offseason moves that head coach / GM Chip Kelly made have blown up in his face. To make matters even worse for the Eagles, they are now getting bitten by the injury bug. Of course, the Eagles weren't playing well when fully healthy, so maybe that doesn't even matter. Let's take a look at the matchup.
Eagles Offense Versus Bucs Defense
The concussion suffer by QB Sam Bradford last week will keep him out of this game, but is that really a bad thing? Bradford threw too many interceptions and showed a complete inability, or unwillingness to throw the ball down the field. In comes backup QB Mark Sanchez, who......throws too many interceptions and shows a complete inability or unwillingness to throw the ball down the field. Yes, Sanchez gives the offense a dimension that Bradford did not, in that he is actually a threat to run the ball on an option. But that's not enough to overcome all of his turnovers. Sanchez has thrown 81 INTs in 72 career games, including 11 in 9 games last season and that killer endzone INT he threw last week in the loss to Miami. Sanchez might actually be able to move the Eagles offense better than Bradford, but in the end he will lose the game on a horrible turnover. It's what he does.
The Eagles have the worst WRs in the NFL, but Jordan Matthews (51 catches for 522 yards and 2 TDs) actually had his best games with Sanchez at QB last year. Expect Sanchez to utilize Matthews, as well as his RBs and TE Zach Ertz all day long in the passing game. Of course, that's not a hard choice with guys like Riley Cooper starting on the outside, whose contribution last week was no catches and an illegal formation penalty that negated a TD the play before Sanchez threw that killer INT. Honestly, a tackling dummy couldn't play worse than Cooper. After all, the tackling dummy only has 11 fewer catches than Cooper this season. The Bucs don't have any big names in the defensive backfield, but they are ranked 10th against the pass (233.2 ypg).
How many turnovers will Mark Sanchez have against the Bucs
The Eagles had been running the ball effectively since Week 3, but somehow got stuffed by the Dolphins 31st ranked run defense last week. This week, their 10th ranked rushing offense (117.3 ypg) has to face the Bucs 12th ranked run defense (101 ypg). DeMarco Murray isn't anywhere close to the RB the team thought they were getting when they signed him to a big free agent contract. Murray is averaging only 3.5 yards per carry on the season. Worse news for the Eagles running game is that Ryan Mathews is out with a concussion this week. That means more Darren Sproles as Murray's backup, but Sproles hasn't exactly had a great year either, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry after averaging 5.8 last season. This is all very bad news for the Eagles against a very good front seven of the Bucs. A name to remember is Kwon Alexander. The Tampa MLB has been a beast in his rookie season.
Another bad matchup for the Eagles is one that is seemly a bad matchup every week. That would be any defensive line against the Eagles offensive line. LT Jason Peters actually practiced on Thursday, so I guess there is a chance he could play. That would let Lane Johnson slide back over to RT. If not, the line will get absolutely dominated. Tampa's line is led by DT Gerald McCoy. He is going to destroy center Jason Kelce and RG Matt Tobin all game. DE William Gholston and OLB Lavonte David are two good run-stuffers.
Bucs Offense Versus Eagles Defense
Jameis Winston is having a typical rookie QB year for the Bucs. He's thrown 10 TDs and 9 INTs, but he's also added 4 rushing TDs, including a 1-yard TD run with 54 seconds to play last week against the Cowboys to lead his team to the win. A QB who leads his team to a last second win instead of turning the ball over at crucial times? Must be nice. Anyway, Winston has been improving as the season has progressed. He has a 88.0 passer rating in his last five games and he hadn't thrown an INT in four games before throwing two against Dallas. The problem for the Bucs is that although they have the 14th ranked offense (354 ypg); they are only 24th in scoring (21.2 ppg). And for how bad the Eagles defense has looked at times, ranked 18th in the NFL (358.1 ypg), they have let up the 9th fewest points in the NFL (20.4 ppg).
Tampa RB Doug Martin rushed for less than 500 yards in each of the last two seasons. But he's already got 706 yards rushing this season, which puts him on pace for more than 1,250 yards. Add in Charles Sims' 302 yards rushing and Winston's rushing yardage and the Bucs are the 6th ranked rushing offense (126.6 ypg) in the NFL. That's not a good matchup for an Eagles defense that can't seem to stop teams from running all over them lately. Their 19th ranked run defense (111.3 ypg) just isn't getting the job done. Expect the Bucs to run often to keep the pressure off their rookie QB.
Tampa only has the 23rd ranked pass offense (227.4 ypg), but this week they'll welcome back WR Vincent Jackson, who missed the last four games. Together with Mike Evans, those two will be a handful for the Eagles 16th ranked pass defense (246.8 ypg). Jackson has a streak of four straight 1,000-yard seasons and Evans has had over 125 receiving yards in two of the last three games. CBs Nolan Carroll and Byron Maxwell better be on their game this week. And the safeties will have to deal with TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The Eagles defense will definitely need to get back on track with their INTs after coming up empty in last week's loss.
The Tampa offensive line has two rookies, but neither one is a liability. LT Donovan Smith and RG Ali Marpet are having fine seasons. They will be tested by the likes of DE Fletcher Cox, who leads the Eagles with 5 1/2 sacks, OLB Brandon Graham who is second with 4 1/2 sacks and OLB Connor Barwin, who led the NFC in sacks last season with 14 1/2. The Eagles will certainly miss LB Jordan Hicks, but DeMeco Ryans should be closer to 100% this week and Mychal Kendricks looked fine last week too. Who knows if Kiko Alonso plays more than a handful of snaps this week. Meanwhile, LeSean McCoy is healthy again and tearing it up in Buffalo. Just saying.
The Eagles special teams aren't so special this season. Blocked punts and missed field goals used to be what the Eagles did to their opponents. Now they are on the wrong side of those miscues. Apparently long-snapper Jon Dorenbos is being blamed, but honestly, the Eagles need to be better in this area to help their offense. Maybe the Bucs will actually punt the ball to Darren Sproles by mistake. Tampa return man Bobby Rainey is decent enough, but the Eagles special teams problems haven't been in their coverage units. Connor Barth is a very accurate kicker, but he has had 11 of his 30 kickoffs returned this year.
NFC East STandings
New York Giants
Chip Kelly now turns over his gimmicky college offense to the turnover-machine that is Mark Sanchez. Unfortunately, Kelly has proven that he is unwilling to tailor his offense to the talent he has on hand. That means that he will continue to allow Sanchez plenty of opportunities to turn the ball over. Head coach Lovie Smith is in his second season leading the rebuilding Bucs. He's not only won a playoff game during his career, unlike Kelly, but he actually let the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl. Hey, Kelly used to play in the Rose Bowl. Tampa's defensive coordinator, Leslie Frasier used to coach the Eagles defensive backs from 1999 through 2002. That means he learned his defense at the foot of the late, great Jim Johnson.
It may seem like a lifetime ago, but Eagles fans will never forget when the Bucs came into Philly and beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game in January 2003, in what would be the final game at Veterans Stadium. Then the Bucs had the audacity to come into Philly for the first game at the Linc the next season and beat the Eagles again. Oh sure, the Eagles have won the three most recent matchups, but Eagles fans will never forgive the Bucs for denying them a Super Bowl berth against a horrible Raiders team all those years ago.
Back to the present day, neither of these teams are particularly good. The difference is that the Bucs are a young team, while the Eagles are just inconsistent and downright bad at times. Tampa has the better team statistically, almost across the board. The one thing the Bucs don't do well is score and stop the other team from scoring. That's pretty important, but so is winning the turnover battle. The Eagles defense can generate turnovers, but they can't always get more than their offense can give away. Now the turnover-prone Mark Sanchez starts at QB. That will most likely be the difference in this game.
Buccaneers 24 - Eagles 20