What a difference a week makes.
Prior to their season opener, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were expected by outsiders to be one of the weaker teams in the league. They were about to start their season in New Orleans, a game they were not likely to win. So what happened? Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick played the game of his life and Tampa Bay upset New Orleans, 48-40.
The Bucs piled up 529 yards of offense. They had multiple touchdown passes of 50 yards or more. They even scored on defense. That was an amazing performance in the opener. You don't have to worry about the Eagles taking the Bucs lightly now.
Jim Schwartz probably hasn't slept a lot this week. Watching Tampa Bay's receivers make big plays all over the field will get your attention. DeSean Jackson used his explosive speed to make several big plays and score a pair of touchdowns. Mike Evans used his size to dominate the Saints. Chris Godwin made a really impressive short touchdown catch. Adam Humphries was dangerous after the catch. Even tight end O.J. Howard delivered a 35-yard reception. There were a total of eight pass plays for 20 or more yards.
Fitzpatrick was the maestro for this dynamic offense. The only reason he's playing is that the league suspended starter Jameis Winston for the first three games. Opponents thought that was a gift, but Fitzpatrick taught the Saints a valuable lesson. Be careful what you ask for. The Eagles showed the world last year what a veteran backup can do with the right pieces around him.
While Fitzpatrick isn't likely to sustain this level of play for an extended time, he has to be taken very seriously. Sunday wasn't a bunch of lucky plays. Fitzpatrick made quick reads and accurate throws. He put good touch on his deep balls. He ran nine times in the game so you have to account for that as well.
The Saints did not help matters. They didn't sack Fitzpatrick once and didn't get consistent pressure on him. That won't be the case this Sunday. The Eagles have arguably the best pass rush in the NFL. They will pressure Fitzpatrick. That will make his day a lot more difficult.
Fletcher Cox played a great game against Atlanta. Getting pressure right up the middle is a good way to get to Fitzpatrick. You don't want him sitting comfortably in the pocket and carving up the defense. Get in his face and make him throw on the run. At the very least, move him off his spot and don't give him time to look down the field.
This game is going to be a huge challenge for the Eagles' secondary. The DBs played well in the opener, but the Bucs have a deeper, more talented group of receivers. Jackson is so fast that even when you double-team him, he can run by the coverage. Evans is so big and talented that he is open even when he's tightly covered.
Schwartz will need to mix up his coverages so that Fitzpatrick can't just drop back and make quick read after quick read. If you can get him to hold the ball an extra second, it will give the pass rush a chance to get to him.
The safeties will be critical this week, especially Rodney McLeod. He plays deep more than the other safeties, and that is a crucial role when facing a team that wants to throw the ball all over the yard. McLeod has to keep things in front of him. Even if Tampa gets a big pass play, don't let it go for a touchdown.
It will be good to see Nigel Bradham back on the field. He and Jordan Hicks will need to be strong against the run, but also a big help in covering tight ends.
While this will be a huge challenge for the Eagles' defense, it will be a lot of fun to see how it does. You want to see them go up against the best. We'll find out just how good Schwartz's unit is on Sunday.
As for the Eagles' offense, the players need to shake off their slow start from the opener and make big plays of their own. The passing game really struggled and that must change. The Eagles can't count on scoring 18 points and winning this week. They can't throw for 132 yards and expect to win. The passing game must step up in a big way.
That starts with Nick Foles and he knows that. He's not happy with the way the offense played against Atlanta. Foles wants the high-flying offense from the 2017 postseason.
The Falcons did play good defense and have to get credit for that. Still, there were opportunities and the Eagles didn't take advantage of them. Beyond that, the players know they need to be better. They actually improved from the first half to the second half in the opener. The rust is now gone and the guys should be ready to roll. I expect a much-improved performance out of the offense.
Doug Pederson and the offensive staff know they must get chunk plays in the passing game. The Eagles didn't have a single pass play go longer than 18 yards last week. That's not Eagles football. That's not how you win games.
It will be interesting to see if the Eagles come out aggressively or if they start with quick throws to get Foles into a good rhythm. Pederson always seems to know which buttons to push. I'm looking forward to seeing what his plan is.
I was not impressed with the Bucs' defense last week. Tampa Bay played the run well, but had coverage issues and didn't generate much of a pass rush. That's exactly what the Eagles need. If the receivers can get open and Foles has time to get them the ball, the passing game will come alive very quickly.
I did think former Eagles Vinny Curry and Beau Allen had some good moments. Linebacker Kwon Alexander was outstanding. He flew all over the field. Second-year safety Justin Evans caught my eye a few times. He is a playmaker. Tampa Bay has some good pieces, but it is banged up on defense - especially in the secondary - and probably a year away from being where it wants to be.
Darren Sproles is out this week and it will be interesting to see how the Eagles use their running backs. Corey Clement should get more touches than last week. Wendell Smallwood could get some plays on offense.
Sproles' absence means the Eagles will have to adjust their return game. Clement could get looks there. I'd like to see DeAndre Carter get a chance to show what he can do.
The Eagles have their work cut out for them. This is the first road game of the season. They're playing against a team that was great last week. Tampa Bay's confidence is sky-high. This is exactly the kind of challenge that brought out the best in the Eagles last year.
We are going to find out some things about the 2018 team. Just how good is the defense? Can Nick Foles and the offense get going? Which receiver will deliver big plays? If the Eagles get the right answers, they will win and get off to a 2-0 start.