It didn't take any tape study this week for the Eagles' defense to understand the task on Thursday night. Tom Brady has won seven Super Bowls. At age 44, he's putting up the kind of numbers that most players only dream about – 15 touchdown passes and just 2 interceptions this season for the defending Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers. Brady has the quick release, the precision accuracy, the impeccable decision-making. He's the total package, the G.O.A.T. – and a heckuva fun challenge for everyone who plays this game on the other side of the ball.
"We understand what's at stake. We understand who's coming in, especially defensively," safety Rodney McLeod said on Tuesday afternoon in an exclusive interview for the Eagles Insider Podcast. "They have a high-powered offense led by Tom Brady and it's at home. We want to get that win."
To get that win, the Eagles are looking to take the positives from their win in Carolina on Sunday – three interceptions, key stops, good pressure on the quarterback – and build on that against Tampa Bay, an offense averaging 33.4 points per game (third highest in the league) and an NFL-high 394.4 passing yards per game.
This is a veteran defense that wants to take another step in the right direction. To do that, the Eagles must deal with Brady.
"Tom is very experienced. He knows where he wants to go with the ball so we have to be very detailed in our initial alignments, our disguises, just to create point two (.2) of a difference for him," McLeod said. "He's very talented, very skilled, one of the best to ever play this game, so it's going to be a great challenge for us, but we've all played him before and we know what we have to do to get the win."
Ah, yes. The Eagles have played Brady before. He is 5-2 against Philadelphia, including the Eagles' win in Super Bowl LII. Brady has 15 touchdown passes and just two interceptions against the Eagles, although Philadelphia played him tough in a 2019 game (a 17-10 win for New England) in which the three-time MVP was held to a pedestrian 216 passing yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
With Tampa Bay, Brady has all the pieces around him – a very good offensive line and great receivers in Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, and Chris Godwin. The tight ends are studs, too, with Rob Gronkowski (who hasn't practiced all week because of a rib injury that has kept him out the last couple of weeks), O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate. Tampa Bay is the complete package on offense.
That's what Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon is up against on Thursday night.
"They've got a really good group," Gannon said. "You watch the tape. They make a bunch of plays, and they each – I always thought, from a receiver standpoint, if you have 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) out there and you got three guys, they all have different skill sets, and that makes it a big-time challenge because how you have to defend each guy within each coverage, what we're playing is different. And our guys have to grasp that and understand that, which we do because we have smart players.
"It's going to be a big-time challenge because they got the best ever throwing it to them, too, and they got other weapons as well besides those three guys. So, I've got a very high opinion of what they do down there.
"Fun. Challenge. Obviously, they're big-time, big-time, but so is every offense. Every offense that you play in the NFL, there is no letdown. There are good players all across each team. What's funny is you start to look at games as you go, and each offense presents different challenges by who they have, how they play, what's their MO of how they play team football, or who is calling the plays. But you look and you start looking at games and things, and it's like, 'OK, this team did a pretty good job against them. Well, what do they play? This team got throttled by them. What did they play?' Then you look, and you are, like, 'Man, these teams did the exact same thing, and they put up 45 versus them and 17 versus them. They played the exact same game plan. Why did that happen?'"
The short week truncates every bit of preparation, but that's just the way it is. The Eagles are going to show up on Thursday night and compete and fight and play hard, aggressive football against perhaps the best offense in the league.
And hopefully that will be enough to win a game to get this team to 3-3 heading into a mini-bye weekend.
"We know we're going against a really good football team," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "They won a Super Bowl last year and this year is a new year. I'm looking forward to going against the challenges. I know that we have a team to compete against anybody. We just got to go out and play our game and have fun doing it."