What better way to prepare Nick Foles for the spotlight of being a starting NFL quarterback than by, well, putting him under the bright Florida sun against a team that very much needs a win to continue their playoff hopes? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sit 6-6, one of four NFC teams a game behind the Seattle Seahawks for the second Wild Card spot. The final four-game stretch is especially important for the Bucs because all four of their final games come against NFC teams, and their current 3-5 NFC record will need some sprucing up for playoff tiebreakers' sake.
The Bucs are an interesting team in their first year under new head coach Greg Schiano. Their defense is a picture of opposites as they rank first in the league in run defense and dead last in pass defense. On offense, third-year quarterback Josh Freeman has looked good now that he's got dynamic rookie running back Doug Martin and free-agent import wide receiver Vincent Jackson in tow. They've also played to their schedule almost week-to-week. None of their wins have come against teams with a winning record on the season, and only one of their losses (to the New Orleans Saints) came against a team with a losing record.
The Eagles, of course, fit in the former category at 3-9. But though the team is mired in an eight-game losing streak, there have been signs of life of late for the Eagles, namely in the form of their rookie backfield of Nick Foles and Bryce Brown. Foles turned in his best performance of the season (three starts and four games with extended playing time) last week against the Dallas Cowboys when he threw for 251 yards and a touchdown on 22-of-34 passing for a season-best quarterback rating of 96.6. A day later, Foles was named as the starting quarterback for the rest of the season by head coach Andy Reid.
Brown, meanwhile, just nonchalantly ran for a combined 347 yards in his first two career starts, the second highest two-game total in Eagles history behind only Steve Van Buren's 379 yards in 1949. Brown, though, has also fumbled the ball away three times in those two games, so he'll need to be extra wary of ball security against a Buccaneers team that is tied for sixth in the league with a +11 turnover differential. Defensively, the focus will be on a defensive line that has a new steward in Tommy Brasher after the dismissal of Jim Washburn earlier in the week. As a result, expect second-round pick Vinny Curry to get more than the 10 snaps he played last week against the Cowboys.
Last Time They Met: Oct. 11, 2009 - Eagles 33-14
In Philadelphia, Donovan McNabb returned from a rib injury to throw for 264 yards and three touchdowns - two to Jeremy Maclin - to pace the Eagles in the lopsided win. McNabb's 157.2 quarterback rating was the second-highest of his career. The Eagles improved to 11-0 in games after the bye week under head coach Andy Reid. The game also marked the return of middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter for the Eagles.
|Tale Of The Tape (2012 Stats)|
|Points Scored Per Game||18.1 (29th in NFL)||27.8 (4)|
|Total Yards Per Game||362.6 (12)||360.4 (14)|
|Rushing Yards Per Game||133.6 (9)||117.5 (11)|
|Passing Yards Per Game||229 (17)||242.9 (12)|
|Points Allowed Per Game||26.7 (26)||23.8 (19)|
|Total Yards Allowed Per Game||351.5 (17)||391.8 (30)|
|Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game||117.9 (19)||82.3 (1)|
|Passing Yards Allowed Per Game||233.6 (16)||309.4 (32)|
|Turnover Ratio||-18 (31)||+11 (7)|
Players To Watch
RB Doug Martin
At the beginning of the season, the Rookie of the Year race was essentially a two-man contest between quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. But that was before Week 8, when Buccaneers running back Doug Martin exploded for 251 yards and four touchdowns against the Raiders.
While he may not be the most dynamic back in the NFL, Martin makes up for it with size, smarts and sheer production. Through 12 games, Martin is tied for third in the NFL with 1,106 yards and tied for second with nine rushing touchdowns. Despite their troubles on defense, the Eagles are the only team in the NFL that has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. The Eagles will look to continue that trend Sunday against Martin and a Buccaneers' rushing attack averaging 117.5 yards per game.
QB Nick Foles
There are two things that should give rookie quarterback Nick Foles a great deal of confidence going into Sunday's game. The first is that head coach Andy Reid named him the starter for the remainder of the year. The second is Tampa Bay's 32nd-ranked pass defense.
The Buccaneers are giving up an average of 309.4 passing yards per game while surrendering a league-worst 7.97 yards per completion. This bodes well for Foles, who appears to be finding a groove after the best of his three starts last Sunday. On Sunday against the Cowboys, Foles was 22-of-34 for 251 yards and a touchdown. But more importantly, Foles looked the part of a starting quarterback – he was patient with his throws, delivering timely strikes and distributing the ball to seven different receivers.
Foles has yet to throw more than one touchdown in a game, but that could very well change this week, as five quarterbacks have thrown three or more touchdowns against the Buccaneers. The Bucs defense is strongest against the run, so Foles may be called upon to take the next step and take control of the Eagles' offense.