The Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprised a lot of people with their Week 1 performance on offense, but it shouldn’t be that much of a shock when you study their offensive personnel and learn about head coach Dirk Koetter’s philosophy. As far as pass targets go, Tampa has one of the best groups in the league, and Koetter is an aggressive play caller who wants to push the ball downfield. That’s his mindset.
Pulling the trigger for the Bucs last week was veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who enjoyed a career game against the New Orleans Saints. "FitzMagic" completed 21 of 28 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns, converting an astounding eight passes of over 20 yards with three of them going for touchdowns. It was bombs away in New Orleans, and Fitzpatrick was surgical in his dismantling of the Saints' secondary while not getting sacked once. Here’s a look at some of the traits Fitzpatrick put on display this past Sunday.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY
Fitzpatrick can make throws from a variety of arm angles, can be very tough in the pocket, and was extremely accurate with great ball placement to all levels of the field on Sunday. The most important part of that was that he was extremely comfortable in the backfield. Tampa Bay’s offensive line was able to keep New Orleans away from the quarterback. When he did break the pocket, he never lost vision downfield and just looked confident in his supporting cast. It will be up to the Eagles' defensive line to ensure that does not happen again this Sunday.
As my friend Ben Fennell best summed up on Monday after watching film of his Week 1 performance, Fitzpatrick’s game was highlighted by both his anticipation and escapability. I showed you some of those anticipation plays in the last shot, but let’s look at his ability to escape here.
On the first play, New Orleans lost contain and Fitzpatrick took the grass in front of him, scrambling for 12 yards and a first down on third-and-11 to seal the victory for the Bucs late in the fourth quarter. He did this a handful of times on Sunday, picking up small chunks of yards here and there to keep the Bucs on schedule. The Eagles' defensive line has to be disciplined in its rush lanes to keep him contained and then make him uncomfortable.
The second play is a simple zone read play with Fitzpatrick, who takes the snap and immediately reads defensive end Cam Jordan. If Jordan crashes inside to defend the handoff, Fitzpatrick will keep it and run for six points. If Jordan attacks the quarterback, he’ll just hand it off. Either way, Jordan can’t be right here, and the Bucs reach the end zone for a touchdown.
Koetter likes to attack downfield and that certainly was the case against New Orleans. Whether they had three receivers on the field or two, this group was constantly testing the vertical part of the field against New Orleans. That’s Koetter’s way. Like Atlanta last week, the Buccaneers like to run play-action shot plays, particularly out of base personnel sets (multiple backs or multiple tight ends). If the offense lines up with a fullback or multiple tight ends in a running formation with everyone tight on the ball, the defense is going to force a safety into the box in a single-high coverage. Koetter then tries to attack the deep safety. It’s a good formula for success, and it’s worked for Koetter for a long time.
Mike Evans is an absolute freak show who looks like he was grown in a petri dish at a lab that raises receivers. He’s got rare size, blazing speed, and great ball skills. Evans is one of the toughest covers in the NFL because of that combination. Evans lines up primarily at X-receiver, so he will line up against both Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby in this game, with some reps coming in the slot against Sidney Jones as well. Last week, the Saints matched up Marshon Lattimore, last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, against Evans one-on-one. It was a hell of a battle. The two competed down after down on an island, but Evans caught all seven of his pass targets, three of which came on third down, and looked unstoppable at every level of the field.
On the other side, DeSean Jackson did more DeSean Jackson things. Eagles fans know about his explosive speed - he can still run - and his rare ball skills - he’s one of the best in the league at tracking the ball downfield. An area where he’s significantly improved throughout his career is as a route runner. Jackson uses his physical tools to his advantage and is a much more skilled player than he was earlier in his career. Still, with DeSean you have to be worried about his vertical speed, and Koetter knows how to use it.
Jackson was limited Thursday by a concussion and shoulder injury, but I don’t expect their game plan to change if he is held out. This is a team that wants to stretch the field, and Fitzpatrick will push it if the opportunity is there.
It’s also important to know that the passing targets don’t just end with Evans and D-Jax, because I honestly would take this group of six pass catchers and put it up against any other in the league. It’s one of the best.
Second-year receiver Chris Godwin was a player I really liked in the 2017 NFL Draft out of Penn State. Not only does he have good size and speed, but he was outstanding in contested situations (remember the back-shoulder throw for a touchdown from the first video) and is a pretty polished route runner as well. He lines up both inside and outside for the Bucs in a variety of personnel groupings.
Slot receiver Adam Humphries sees plenty of playing time as well. He’s quick, tough, and has more speed than I expected in the open field. The young veteran will go up and fight for the football and is probably the best natural YAC receiver on the team.
This team will line up in 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends), with both O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate on the field at the same time, but they’ll spread those tight ends out as well. Both Howard and Brate are athletic enough to win in space and are proven mismatches at the NFL level, either being too big for safeties or too athletic for linebackers. Third tight end, Antony Auclair, is more of a run blocker who helps them in the ground game.
At the end of the day Evans, Jackson, Godwin, Humphries, Howard, and Brate are an extremely formidable group of pass catchers playing in a scheme that tries to leverage their athleticism in space. It will be a tough test for the Eagles' defense on Sunday.
Let’s quickly transition to the run game. The Bucs selected former USC running back Ronald Jones in the second round back in April, but he was a healthy scratch on Sunday as he continues to get acclimated to the pro level. That left the two veterans, Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers, to carry most of the load.
As I talked about on the Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast this week, I’m a fan of Barber. I liked him coming out of Auburn back in 2016 and he’s been better than I expected thanks to his improved patience with the ball in his hands. He’s a very, very competitive runner who can make people miss and will run through first contact despite his lack of elite size and speed. He’s going to be a tough test on Sunday afternoon. Tackling him is no cake walk. Barber also stands out in pass protection.
We saw Jordan Hicks get home for a sack on Matt Ryan last Thursday night on a blitz when he destroyed running back Devonta Freeman. The Eagles' linebackers will need to repeat that effort against Barber and Rodgers in this game because both have proven to be very good pass protectors on film.
All in all, this is going to be a fun matchup between the Eagles' defense and this Bucs offense. The secondary was tested last week with Julio Jones and this group gets another elite talent in Evans this Sunday. The Bucs, however, are much deeper in this area than what Atlanta brought to the Linc. The defensive line has to win its one-on-one matchups up front. That will be the key to this game. Get to Fitzpatrick, make him uncomfortable, and stay disciplined in coverage. If the Eagles can do that, they’ll be in good shape on Sunday afternoon.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.