We're in Day 3 of The Great Hamstring Watch, and it remains too early to know how
Tampa Bay has a rookie quarterback and, thus, is experiencing growing pains offensively. The Bucs are led by their defense, which employs a swarming, fast-to-the-ball personality and an outstanding back four to complement a strong front seven. What New York had in size up front, the Bucs have in speed.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur described Tampa Bay as an "active and physical" defense. Tampa Bay is fast to the football, relentless. This sometimes happens when a team knows it is building on offense. The defense takes over. That's what has happened in Tampa Bay.
So the Eagles have to play an extremely sound game offensively on Sunday to come home 3-3. They have to be, more than anything else, patient, because points are not going to come easily against Tampa Bay, which has allowed just 17.5 points per game this season.
Here is the list of priorities for Sunday for an offense that ranks eighth in the league in scoring, that moves the football on nearly every possession, and that is a correction or three away from being just about, well, let's just say "extremely good" ...
1. Be Stout Inside
Tampa Bay's defensive front is outstanding, led by tackle Gerald McCoy. A 300-pounder with great quickness and strength, McCoy and Co. will be a lot for center
New York did a nice job inside last Sunday, using the pure size (350 pounds) of Shaun Rogers to control the running lanes. This is a bit of a different challenge. Running to the edges may be a challenge against Tampa Bay's flow-to-the-ball defense, so the Eagles may try to get some yardage between the tackles. That's where this battle is essential.
The Bucs play a 4-3 front and they are quick to the football. This is a physical defense that works from the inside out, led by McCoy. He has a pair of sacks in four games, and he's always around the football. A very disruptive player, McCoy must be contained.
2. Don't Force The Issue
The Bucs are stingy. The yards and the points aren't going to come easily for the Eagles offense on Sunday. Tampa Bay is sound, intelligent and aggressive. They run extremely well, something head coach Chip Kelly has pointed out this week.
So the Eagles can't get greedy, for the most part. They want to be aggressive (see below) and they want to play with confidence, but they can't force things. Take what is there, and if nothing is there, throw the ball out of bounds and play the field-position game.
3. Secure The Football
This almost goes without saying, right? It's a mantra for every week, and the Eagles did a wonderful job at New York holding on to the football and making good decisions. Given that Tampa Bay has a rookie quarterback and has been so challenged to score points, it behooves the Eagles to make the Bucs drive the length of the field to put points on the board.
So ... no turnovers.
Beware of the Bucs trying to punch the football out. Respect that secondary, which has speed and closes so well. Make good decisions in the passing game.
Turnover differential is one of the most telling statistics in the game, and the team that does the best job of winning that numbers war usually wins the game. This one is no different. The Eagles can't play sloppy football.
4. Take A Shot Or Two Down The Field
You've got to keep a defense honest, don't you? So while the message here largely has been to tone down any outrageous suggestions, the Eagles do need to remain aggressive. And that means looking down the field once or twice for Jackson, even though he's working against the great Darrelle Revis on the island. Revis and Jackson are two of the best in the game at their respective positions, and while Revis can shut down anyone, it also makes sense to challenge him and see if the Eagles can stretch the Tampa Bay defense.
It could very well be that Tampa Bay commits a safety to the box to slow the running game and leaves Revis on Jackson in single coverage. Or that the Bucs even play some zero coverage and run blitz to control the No. 1-ranked ground attack in the league.
If that's the case, the Eagles must try to take advantage and gain yards in chunks. Dinking and dunking is fine, and if the Eagles do that can cobble a few scoring drives together and emerge with 24 points, they've done a good job against an outstanding defense. Nothing, though, is as powerful a statement as a quick-strike score, something that could alter the way the Bucs play defense.
5. Commit To The Running Game
Given Tampa Bay's excellent defensive speed, it may be tough for
The Eagles can't let a few tough offensive series take them away from what they've done better this year than any NFL team. They need to stay committed to the run game to soften things up and hopefully open up the defense for a big play or two down the field.
McCoy had 20 carries at New York and another 6 receptions in the passing game. He had no running room in the second half with Foles at quarterback. And if Foles plays on Sunday, the Eagles lose one of their running threats. They don't, however, lose their ground game.
With a big, strong offensive line, the Eagles should be able to run the ball on any team. Sunday is no exception. The Eagles must control the line of scrimmage and run the football against this stingy Tampa Bay defense, and they must stay committed to the approach on the ground.