ITB Scouting Report: Philadelphia Eagles Vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Matchups, X-Factors, Injuries
At 1 p.m. Sunday in Tampa, the Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) will travel to Raymond James Stadium to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) in the NFC Wild Card round.
Much has changed since these two teams faced each other back in October, but do the seven-seeded Eagles have the formula to knock off the second-seeded Bucs?
Eagles Offense vs. Bucs Defense
TE Dallas Goedert vs. Bucs LBs: This is a game where 8-to-10 targets for Goedert should be a requirement. The fourth-year tight end finished second on the Eagles in targets (76), receptions (56), yards (830) and touchdowns (4), but the passing game will have to go through him this week. Goedert will have an opportunity to exploit Tampa Bay’s second level, and his explosiveness should enable him to find success working the seams. The Eagles are in short supply of big-bodied pass catchers, so I’d expect Goedert to be the focal point in the red zone.
RB Kenny Gainwell vs. Bucs front-7: The Eagles are short on options in the passing game, but Gainwell represents a respectable complement to wide receiver DeVonta Smith and Goedert. The rookie running back can be deployed as a receiver or catch the ball out of the backfield and take advantage of his quickness in open space. Given the attack philosophy of Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, quarterback Jalen Hurts will likely be forced to make quick decisions with the football, which is where Gainwell could theoretically thrive as a dynamic outlet option.
Eagles Defense vs. Bucs Offense
Eagles LBs vs. TE Rob Gronkowski: Tight ends have scored three touchdowns against the Eagles over the past three weeks and the defense has collectively struggled to contain the position for most of the season. Not much needs to be written about Gronkowski, who rolled up seven catches for 137 yards on 10 targets last week, but the Eagles will need to conjure ways to minimize his impact. Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare for most defenses, but given the Eagles’ personnel deficiencies, it will likely take a group effort to slow the Hall of Fame-destined tight end. Expect another 7-to-8 targets in Gronkowski’s direction.
DTs Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave vs. Bucs interior OL: The Eagles’ high-priced tackle tandem must generate interior pressure to move the lead-footed Brady off his spot and disrupt the passing game’s rhythm. If Cox and Hargrave collapse the pocket, opportunities will be created for Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett to get home and finish the play. The Tampa Bay interior – comprised of left guard Ali Marpet, center Ryan Jensen, and right guard Alex Cappa – has been a stout unit, but Jensen (shoulder) was a limited participant in practice this week and carries a questionable designation heading into Sunday.
Jaelon Darden handles kick and punt return duties for the Bucs. The rookie wideout has returned 18 kicks for 359 yards and has yielded 142 yards on nineteen punt return opportunities.
Kicker Ryan Succop has converted 25-of-30 field goal attempts (83.3 percent) and is 56-of-59 on extra point attempts (94.9 percent). Punter Bradley Pinion has logged 2,378 yards on 64 punts (42.5 yards per punt). Pinion also handles kickoffs for Tampa Bay, with 71 of his 89 kickoffs yielding touchbacks.
Defensive end Pat O’Connor (344 snaps) and linebackers Anthony Nelson (333) and K.J. Britt (324) represent the nucleus of coordinator Keith Armstrong’s unit.
For Philadelphia, wide receiver Jalen Reagor serves as the kick and punt returner. He has managed 255 yards on twelve kick returns and 227 yards on 31 punt return opportunities.
Jake Elliott is 30-for-33 on field goal opportunities (90.9 percent) and 44-for-44 on extra point attempts. Sixty-one of his 96 kickoffs have been touchbacks. Punter Arryn Siposs has accrued 2,416 yards on 55 punts (43.9 yards per punt).
Cornerbacks back Zech McPhearson (325 snaps) and Andre Chachere (322), and linebacker Shaun Bradley (280) serve as core members for special teams coordinator Michael Clay’s unit.
Since Jeffrey Lurie’s first full year of ownership in 1995, the Eagles have garnered the fifth-most playoff appearances (16) in the NFL, behind only the Patriots (21), Packers (20), Colts (18), and Steelers (17).
Philadelphia, Buffalo (four), Kansas City (five), L.A. Rams (four), New England (four), New Orleans (four), and Tennessee (four) are the only seven NFL teams to clinch four playoff appearances in the last five seasons.
Nick Sirianni became just the second rookie head coach in league history to lead his team to the playoffs after starting 2-5 or worse through seven games, and the third coach in Eagles history to make the playoffs in their first season.
Eagles S Marcus Epps: Epps’ steady rise throughout the season shouldn’t be understated. First-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, much like his predecessor, Jim Schwartz, has entrusted Epps to fulfill a specified role all season long. Given Tampa Bay’s plethora of weaponry, deploying Epps as the third safety gives the Eagles a coverage boost and much-needed optionality for Gannon, who already has limited resources at his disposal. The Wyoming product makes up for his lack of prototypical size and overwhelming athletic traits with innate football intellect, toughness, and confidence.
Bucs TE Cameron Brate: With Gronkowski commanding most of the attention, and presumably Darius Slay shadowing Mike Evans, look for Brady to exploit the vulnerable short-to-intermediate area of the Eagles’ defense with Brate, who’s sixth on the Bucs in targets – behind Antonio Brown – and has registered 30 receptions for 245 yards and four touchdowns over 17 games. The veteran tight end has the savvy to find the soft spots in zone and has been an effective red zone option throughout his career. The Harvard product can win in a variety of ways, so the Eagles will need to tighten up their intermediary coverage
The Eagles enter Wild Card weekend a vastly different team than the one that staggered through the first seven weeks of the season. Armed with a lethal rushing attack, dominant offensive line, a seasoned coach and determined second-year quarterback, the Eagles now have the proper formula to go toe-to-toe with Tampa Bay offensively.
If Jonathan Gannon’s defensive unit stays on the attack and can get to Brady early, the Eagles have a chance to steal a win at Raymond James Stadium. While most predict the Bucs to rout the inexperienced Eagles, gut tells me that belief, culture and leadership will help the Birds keep it close.
Tampa Bay 27, Philadelphia 24
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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