The Eagles can get back to .500 with a win in Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Buccaneers are 0-4, but don't fall into the trap of thinking Tampa is anything like Florida's other winless team, the Jaguars. The Bucs have had late leads in three of their losses. Those three losses were by a combined total of six points. This is a team that plays good defense and keeps games close, but just can't make the key plays that it takes to win.
The big story with the Bucs has been the quarterback situation. Josh Freeman was released after a falling out with coach Greg Schiano. Now rookie Mike Glennon is running the offense. He lost his debut when Tampa Bay fell to Arizona 13-10 two weeks ago. Last week was the bye. One week can't make a huge difference for a rookie, but it should help him. Glennon had the chance to study tape of himself and figure out how he needed to improve. He also was able to study the Eagles at length.
The Bucs offense is built around running back Doug Martin. He averages 25 carries per game. Martin is also the third leading receiver on the team. The Bucs have an old-school offense. They want to run the ball, control the line of scrimmage and then get big plays in the passing game. That should take pressure off Glennon, but it doesn't always go smoothly. Martin is averaging 3.4 yards per carry. The run game is struggling. That means Glennon and the passing game have the pressure put on them.
Glennon is a pocket passer. He has good size. He has a strong arm. He made a handful of throws in the Cardinals game that really stood out. He also had his share of rookie moments. There was a pass he threw directly at a defender, who wasn't far away from him. I don't know what he was thinking on that play. Glennon threw several short, quick passes. Too quick, I mean. He got the ball out almost instantly. That's safe, but Tampa doesn't have players who are going to make something happen after the catch. The Bucs are dead last in the NFL in yards after the catch. Glennon attempted 43 passes and threw for just 196 yards. That's not good, to put it mildly.
I'm sure Glennon will be better now that he's got a game under his belt. The Eagles also have a game of his tape to study. One of the things I'm sure Bill Davis noticed is that Glennon wasn't great against the blitz. Give him a clean pocket and he can beat you. Pressure Glennon and he becomes highly erratic. This is true of many quarterbacks, but it is heightened when facing a rookie pocket passer. Glennon doesn't read his progressions like a veteran passer would. There were some plays in the Cardinals game when Glennon was quick to get the ball to an underneath receiver. I'm sure the coaches are stressing to Glennon to avoid bad plays and that has him erring on the side of caution. He also lacks the ability to escape pressure with quick feet or overall athleticism.
The Eagles blitz package has had less than ideal results this year. You do have to factor in that going against smart veterans like Alex Smith, Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning is going to make it tough to fool them. The Eagles got good pressure on Eli Manning last week. I'm sure the defense is more confident than they've been all year. I'm looking forward to seeing how aggressive Davis is with his blitz calls and how well the players execute the game plan.
Tampa lacks speedy receivers. Mike Williams has good size. Vincent Jackson is huge. The Eagles have big corners and should match up well. I hope Davis shows confidence in his corners and then has the rest of the defense focus on the run. The Bucs struggle to move the ball and score points no matter what, but if you take away the run they should really be in for a long day.
I don't expect the Bucs to score many points. The flip side is that the Eagles are in for a big challenge on offense. The Eagles have had at least 430 yards in every game this year and have scored 30 or more points in three of five games. Tampa played the Saints and the Patriots. Those teams combined for 39 points. That should tell you that this defense is talented and playing pretty well.
Right now, the big question with the Eagles offense is who will be the starting quarterback. Nothing is set in stone. Tampa has a top-10 run defense. Their pass defense is a notch below that.
The Bucs are wild to watch on defense. They run the 4-3 and it is a 1-gap, attacking style. They do more stunting and looping with their defensive line than any other NFL team I've seen this year. That makes life very hard on offensive linemen. Imagine the ball is about to be snapped. You're looking at the defender across from you. You know how to execute this block, but at the snap the guy goes hard to the left or right. Then some other defender comes out of nowhere and is in your area. This can throw off the timing and execution of blocks.
All teams do some stunting and looping. Tampa does a ton of it. Last week, the Giants used stunts to effectively slow down the Eagles running game. You know Tampa studied that tape and is ready to use their attacking style in a similar way. Chip Kelly is good at making adjustments so he'll have some wrinkle to counter what Tampa does.
One thing that should help the Eagles run game is that Kelly likes to spread defenses out. Tampa is at their best when they can bunch guys at the line of scrimmage. The Bucs have 13 sacks, a good total. Seven of them have come from linebackers and defensive backs. They love to blitz and be aggressive. It is trickier to do that against a spread set. The offense is more vulnerable, but so is the defense.
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I am interested to see what Kelly does to boost the run game. His offense is built on running the ball. The Eagles lead the league in rushing and they are third in attempts. Kelly isn't going to abandon the run because Tampa has a good run defense. He'll come up with a wrinkle on how to get the Bucs blocked and make
This is going to be one of those games when special teams is truly crucial. Glennon led one touchdown drive against the Cardinals. It started at Arizona's 41-yard line. The Bucs are 31st in the league in yards and points, but also in yards per play. They move the ball methodically. If you force them to drive the long field, they are going to struggle to score. If the Eagles can win the field position battle, they'll have a significant advantage.
The Eagles can win this game even if they have to settle for field goals because Tampa struggles to score at all. Their high total for the season is just 17 points. The Eagles can put tremendous pressure on the Bucs by scoring touchdowns. Tampa isn't built for shootouts. They need a tight, one-possession game to be comfortable. I don't think it would be pretty for the Bucs to fall behind early and get into a situation where they had to open up their offense. The red zone has been a problem for the Eagles and a strength for Tampa. They are second in the NFL in red zone defense. Scoring touchdowns won't be easy.
Last week's win was good for the Eagles. That broke a losing streak. The goal this week is to build a winning streak. Go beat the Bucs and get to 3-3. Make it two wins in a row. One of the keys will be the attitude of the players. They need to be confident, but not cocky. While they did win last week, that was still a sloppy performance. This team can still get a lot better and you can bet Kelly and the coaches will remind them of that until they see this team play up to their standards. Kelly wants consistent excellence and that's still a long way away for the Eagles.