I know that Tampa Bay is coming off a bye week after a winless first month of the season and that changes everything. The Bucs are approaching today as if the season begins anew. What they've done in the past means very little.
How to win this game? Get the jump early. It's something we haven't seen from Chip Kelly's Eagles -- a first-drive touchdown or a lead to start the game. The Eagles have taken some time to find themselves early in games since the crazy first quarter at FedEx Field. These last two road games have seen the Eagles fall behind early.
Today is the perfect time to get the offense untracked immediately. Amid reports that Nick Foles will start his first game of the season -- there is nothing known officially until the active list is announced at 11:30 a.m. -- the Eagles know they want to get on top of a Tampa Bay team that relies on its defense and its running game.
There are a couple of things I want to see early from the Eagles -- offense and defense and special teams -- no matter who plays quarterback.
1. ESTABLISH THE POWER RUNNING GAME
Tampa Bay has an outstanding defense, one that runs to the football very well. The Eagles can't play into that strength by playing sideline-to-sideline offense. I'd like to see the Eagles go right at Tampa Bay's defense and play some power football. Will Tampa Bay alllow LeSean McCoy to cut back and reverse field and create his own yardage? The defense has focused on McCoy for two weeks.
What's going to work today is methodical football. The Eagles have to go in early and make Tampa Bay respect the running game, even if the gains are 3 and 4 yards at a time.
If the Eagles can do that early, move the chains, get some first downs, they will open up everything down the field later in the game.
2. PUT THE BALL IN JACKSON'S HANDS
Everyone respects cornerback Darrelle Revis, and the Eagles have to be smart about how they approach that matchup with Revis and DeSean Jackson. Still, it seems pretty clear that the Eagles must get Jackson his touches for the offense to be effective.
So how they can do it? Hit him with some screen passes. Use him across the middle. Do something we haven't seen, such as an end around. Certainly, take a shot or two deep with Jackson to use his speed to stretch the defense and force Revis to run.
Jackson is such a terrific fit for the offense when he gets 5-7 touches in a game. Find a way to do that today and see how Tampa Bay reacts.
3. BE AGGRESSIVE ON DEFENSE
Don't underestimate rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. He's had a couple of weeks to study this defense, to work with his coaches on his mechanics and to find a level of comfort and confidence. The Eagles can't allow Glennon to set up and stand tall in the pocket and look for his tall and very good receivers -- Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams -- down the field.
Bill Davis must be aggressive on defense and the players have to follow suit. That means running to the football as a group. That means being physical against an outstanding running back in Doug Martin. That means wiinning some battles and making Glennon ditch the pocket.
It also means having the cornerbacks up in coverage and not allowing Glennon any easy completions. The Eagles have given up big yards on slants and screens, and they can't give the rookie those easy throws today.
Does being aggressive mean there's a chance for a big play on the back end? Yes, but the Eagles have to make Glennon earn every yard.
4. TIME TO BUST ONE ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Why do I feel like today is going to be "one of those games" on special teams where a lot of crazy things happen? It's hot, Tampa Bay is doing anything it can to win a game ... strange things usually happen here ... it's time for the Eagles to return a kick to the house.
Damaris Johnson has had some nice returns in the punt game, but he hasn't been able to quite get free enough to change field position. For whatever reason, the feeling here is that today is the day.
The stands are going to be packed with Eagles fans. The "home" feel for the Eagles will be present, no question about it. The Eagles must win the battle on special teams and take some of the starch away from the Bucs.
A win today gets the Eagles to 3-3 and keeps the team right there in the NFC East. This is a huge spot against a Tampa Bay squad that wants to start all over. Get a jump on Tampa Bay, run the football early, put the ball in 10's hands and get physical and aggressive on defense ... these are the things I'm thinking as kickoff nears.
Of course, the crucial part is far deeper than the suggestions here. The Eagles need to adjust in-game and win the strategic battle and make sure they win the line of scrimmage. Tampa Bay's defense can't dictate to the quarterback, be it Foles or Michael Vick. The offensive line has its hands full here.
Let's hope the win last Sunday starts the spark and builds some momentum. This is a big spot to win a game. All three phases have to be ready to go to get a lead and the "home" crowd going in Tampa.