There's no better time for the Eagles to right the ship than this Sunday against the Buccaneers. After losing last Sunday's game to Miami by just a single point, fans might be feeling down about this year's playoff chances. The fact of the matter is, however, that an Eagles win this weekend could result in the Eagles being atop the NFC East standings at 5-5 by the end of the day. The Eagles currently own the tiebreaker over New York.
The big question heading into the weekend is how will Mark Sanchez perform at quarterback in his first start of the season. His first start last year was a huge success, as the Eagles stormed out to a huge lead against the Carolina Panthers at home and went on to win 45-21. Can Sanchez rekindle some of that magic? Running back Ryan Mathews is also out, while tackle Jason Peters is questionable. Which Eagles will be able to suit up and go this week?
Tampa Bay won't surrender without a fight, though. This isn't the Buccaneers team that went 2-14 last season. Head coach Lovie Smith and a new quarterback (No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston) have given the Bucs a new focus this season, as the team has won three of their last five games to match the Eagles' record of 4-5.
It's Jameis and the Bucs against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Here's the preview ...
- Alex Smith
Last Time They Met
Eagles 31, Buccaneers 20
October 13, 2013 - Raymond James Stadium
In Chip Kelly's sixth game as head coach of the Eagles, the team notched a key 31-20 road win to improve to 3-3 on the year. In his first start of the season, Nick Foles threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns, completing 22 of his 31 passes and also scoring on a 4-yard scamper into the end zone early in the game. Riley Cooper was Foles' primary target that day, turning four catches into 120 yards and a touchdown. LeSean McCoy rushed 25 times for 116 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and added 55 more yards on two receptions.
Mike Glennon was the quarterback for the Bucs that day, throwing for 273 yards, two touchdowns and one interception with a completion rate of 60.4 percent. Vincent Jackson was targeted 14 times, catching nine balls for 114 yards and two touchdowns, and tight end Tim Wright caught seven passes for 91 yards.
Philadelphia's defense held Tampa Bay's running backs, Doug Martin and Mike James, to 74 yards on 18 carries. They sacked Glennon twice, with Connor Barwin and Bennie Logan each notching one takedown of the 6-7 signal-caller.
- Max Rappaport
When The Eagles Have The Ball
The Eagles have been here before. Last year, starting quarterback Nick Foles was knocked out of a Week 9 game against the Houston Texans, forcing reserve Mark Sanchez to step in behind center for the remainder of the season. And while it's uncertain exactly how many games Sam Bradford will miss with a concussion and injured non-throwing shoulder, Sanchez received the green light for this Sunday's game.
After averaging 265.5 yards per game through the air and 173.3 yards per game on the ground in their previous four games, the Eagles' script was flipped against the Dolphins. Bradford and Sanchez combined to throw for 353 yards, while the team's trio of running backs combined for just 79 yards on 33 attempts (2.4 yards per carry). Bradford completed 19 of his 25 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown before coming out of the game in the third quarter, while Sanchez finished 14-of-23 for 156 yards and one interception.
Philadelphia's passing game was sparked last week by tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz, who went for 134 and 68 yards, respectively. And running back DeMarco Murray added another 58 yards on six catches to go along with his 61 rushing yards. The Eagles will likely be looking to Murray to carry much of the load the offensive load with Ryan Mathews out for Sunday's game with a concussion.
On Sunday, the Eagles will look to take advantage of a Buccaneers defense that has allowed the 26th-most points in the NFL this season, including 19 touchdowns through the air, the second-highest mark in the league. In five of Tampa Bay's nine games this season, they've allowed opponents to score 30 or more points, posting a 1-4 record in those contests. But the Bucs are coming off their best defensive performance of the season, a 10-6 victory over the Cowboys in which they allowed just 216 yards of total offense.
One area in which Tampa Bay's defense has thrived all season long has been in forcing turnovers. On the year, the Bucs have notched a takeaway on 15.5 percent of their opponents' drives, a number that ranks fifth in the league. The Eagles, on the other hand, have turned the ball over just two times in their last three games combined, down from eight total in the three games before that.
Rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander has been a major playmaker for Tampa Bay, ranking third on the team in tackles with 38 to go along with seven deflected passes, two interceptions and a forced fumble. The team's most effective pass-rusher this year has been defensive end Jacquies Smith, but he is questionable after being limited in practice all week with an ankle injury. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is right behind Smith with 4.5 quarterback takedowns on the season, but he's been held without one since Week 5.
- Max Rappaport
When The Buccaneers Have The Ball
After notching the win over the Cowboys in Week 10, the Buccaneers are coming into this game with confidence, especially quarterback Jameis Winston. The rookie has quickly set the tone in Tampa Bay and the former Eagles fan is ready to lead his team down the stretch. The Philadelphia defense will need to arrive prepared for Winston to be a major threat on Sunday. This season, he has thrown for 2,159 yards, 7.6 yards per attempt and 10 touchdowns. He leads the Buccaneers in rushing touchdowns with four and, as of late, the Eagles' run defense has struggled.
In the early part of 2015, the defense was stellar against the run, but injuries set in and led to issues. Now, the Eagles are allowing 111.3 rushing yards per game, 19th in the NFL. This weekend, taking on Winston and the sixth-ranked rushing team means this healthier Eagles defense will need to step up to the challenge and revert back to its former ways.
While Winston is a major contributor to the run game, he is only a small piece of the puzzle. Doug Martin is Tampa Bay's leader in the category. He has accumulated 706 yards on the ground, enough for fifth most in the league heading into this week. But he is not the only weapon out of the backfield, as the team can also utilize the skills of Charles Sims in the run and pass game. Sims has 302 rushing yards, but has also nabbed 251 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the air.
As far as the passing game is concerned, it's no secret who Winston will consistently target throughout the game. That who is Mike Evans. The 6-5 wide receiver leads the Buccaneers with 40 receptions for 662 yards. The No. 2 receiver, Vincent Jackson, has 319 yards this season, but Jackson has missed the last three games with a knee injury. He returned to practice on Thursday and has officially been listed as questionable for this weekend's matchup.
Arguably the biggest advantage for the Eagles heading into the weekend though is the Buccaneers' scoring defense, which ranks 24th among all NFL teams allowing 21.2 points per game. Currently, Philadelphia is tied for 9th best in scoring defense, allowing only an average of 20.4 points in each outing. This area of the game is one the Eagles will need to continue to succeed in, and it is one they have placed a major emphasis on in the past weeks.
Additionally, the team's secondary will also look to get back to its penchant for takeaways after a down game verse Miami. Winston has nine interceptions on the season, two of which came last Sunday against Dallas, a team that had only three on the season entering the game. If Walter Thurmond and Malcolm Jenkins can come up with a timely interception or two, the team may have all the answers needed to shut down the Tampa Bay offense.
- Julie Bacanskas
WR Mike Evans vs. CBs Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carroll
Evans has been the go-to guy for Tampa Bay this season, and he has the 662 receiving yards to show for it. However, he also has struggled with drops this season, which the Eagles will be looking for this weekend.
Although he's been criticized for his play throughout the year, Maxwell has been productive with six passes defensed, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception. This matchup will certainly be one to watch, especially if the team's other top wide receiver Jackson cannot play, because Evans is a player Winston will look to consistently throughout the game.
Eagles Run Game vs. Buccaneers Run Defense
After gaining some momentum, the Eagles' run game took a step back against Miami, accumulating only 83 yards on the ground. This week, it'll be facing the 12th-ranked run defense, which will be a challenge in and of itself, but the team also will not have Ryan Mathews. He sustained a concussion last weekend and was officially ruled out on Friday.
This means, DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles will need to take on an increased work load, and Kenjon Barner will likely see his first touches of the 2015 season. Additionally, Tampa Bay is coming off a game in which it allowed a mere 42 rushing yards against Dallas. For Philadelphia, establishing the run game will not be an easy task, but it will be one the team must accomplish.
DT Gerald McCoy vs. Eagles Offensive Line
Once again, the state of the Eagles' offensive line is a question heading into the weekend. Earlier in the week, Lane Johnson believed he would be back at right tackle for the team, and it seemed as though he was correct as Jason Peters partook in parts of Thursday's practice. However, the left tackle is listed as questionable for the third week in a row and has not played since he left the game against the Panthers. Overall, the team's offensive line struggled against Miami and the test will not get any easier when it goes up against McCoy. The Buccaneer has 4.5 sacks on the season.
- Julie Bacanskas
Trends To Watch
Eagles Enforcing Maritime Law
The Eagles have defeated the Buccaneers in three straight regular season meetings, dating back to 2009. The most recent matchup came in 2013, when the Eagles went on the road and beat Tampa Bay 31-20 behind a big day from Riley Cooper, who caught four passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.
Starting A New Streak
Last week against Miami, the Eagles had a streak of 14 consecutive games with a takeaway snapped. Unfortunately, safeties do not count. The Eagles created a total of 33 turnovers in those games, and they'll look to start a new streak on Sunday.
The Eagles haven't lost two games in a row since the first two weeks of the season, when they fell to Atlanta and Dallas in back-to-back weeks. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay hasn't won consecutive games yet this season (Tampa beat Dallas 10-6) last week.
- Alex Smith