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Spadaro: 6 storylines to preview in this Eagles-Buccaneers Wild Card matchup 

Jordan Mailata
Jordan Mailata

The bottom-line storyline for Monday's Eagles-Buccaneers Super Wild Card Playoff Weekend closer is that it is a win-or-go-home scenario. The rest of it, if you listen to Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith, is a football game like every other throughout the season.

"It's just another game," said Smith. "You prepare that way."

Within that, there are some subplots, and here are 6 to consider as the Eagles take to the road for a second game this season with Tampa Bay ...

1. The Injury Factor

This is significant for both sides, with the Eagles minus leading wide receiver A.J. Brown (knee) and rookie safety Sydney Brown (knee), and with safety Reed Blankenship (groin) questionable after not practicing during the week. Quarterback Jalen Hurts practiced fully for two days and has no status for Monday night, and that's great news. Cornerback Darius Slay returns after missing four games with a knee injury.

Tampa Bay's biggest injury question involves quarterback Baker Mayfield, who had limited practice time all week while dealing with ankle and rib injuries. He is listed as questionable.

2. What does the second time around mean?

That Week 3 25-11 win was impressive in every way. Philadelphia ran for 201 yards and Hurts passed for 277 and the Eagles dominated the time of possession. The offense would have had more if not for a 1-for-5 performance in the red zone. The Eagles' defense limited Tampa Bay to 41 rushing yards, had two takeaways, and held Mayfield to 146 passing yards, with two quarterback sacks and a night full of pressure.

So, what does that mean for this game? It was a long time ago and both teams have changed throughout the course of the season. It's a mixing of learning from that game and tweaking matchups and game situations.

Check out our selection of the best practice photos from the week as the Eagles travel to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card Round of the 2023 NFL Playoffs.

3. Winning at the line of scrimmage

The Eagles lean on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football, and as right tackle Lane Johnson said, "run the rock" to establish things in the trenches. They did it in September and are ready to go up front against a good Tampa Bay defensive line with a healthy Vita Vea, the massive interior player, and rookie Calijah Kancey, the team's first-round draft pick, who is a quick-twitch player inside. Vea was dealing with a groin injury and Kancey didn't play the first time these teams met.

Philadelphia's defensive line won in that Monday night game and comes back with the same intention. The goal is the same: Stop the running game, ranked 32nd in the NFL in the regular season, and pressure Mayfield.

4. Tampa Bay's blitz game

It is definitely a factor, as the Bucs blitz at the third-highest rate (40 percent) of any defense and went after Hurts more than 60 percent of the time in Week 3. Tampa Bay Head Coach Todd Bowles has a creative and effective pressure package and the Eagles know the challenge here. What is the best way to attack the blitz? Everyone has to be on the same page, for starters. We've seen Hurts gash defenses with his legs, we've seen the Eagles win down the field, and, of course, a strong running game helps everything.

5. Takeaway/Giveaway

A weekly staple. That's just the way it is in the game of football. Ball security rules. Taking the ball away means so much. You see it in every game. This is a new season, so this is an area that starts from scratch, right? Win ball security, the offense is in great shape. Forcing Tampa Bay into mistakes, as the Eagles did with those two takeaways in September, plus a safety, turned the game into a huge, convincing win.

It is always a category that means so much and Monday night is no different.

6. Matching up against Bucs passing game

Mayfield wants to spread it around, going downfield to Mike Evans, who scored 13 touchdowns this season. The Eagles, mostly Slay, shut down Evans in the first go-around, keeping him to 2 catches and 13 yards for the first three quarters. Chris Godwin (83 catches for 1,024 yards) does a lot of dirty work in the middle of the field and is the go-to receiver to move the chains and pick up yards in the intermediate area. Running back Rachaad White caught 62 passes – he's a good two-way player who also rushed for 990 yards. The inside receiver with speed is Trey Palmer, who chipped in with 39 receptions.

The Eagles aren't sure about Blankenship, who Head Coach Nick Sirianni said will be a game-time decision, and they're minus Brown in the secondary. Injuries in the secondary have been a story all season.

So, to circle back, the back end of the Eagles' defense needs help from the front end – stopping the running game and pressuring Mayfield. Evans is a big, strong handful for every defense. There are some weapons here and the secondary has its hands full.

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