5 Things to Watch for in the Eagles-Buccaneers Game
It’s too late for the Eagles to salvage their season. It’s too late for head coach Andy Reid to save his job. And it’s at the point in the year when Eagles fans may be rooting for the team to lose so they can get the No. 1 overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft.
The Eagles are without Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy for this upcoming Sunday’s matchup. The offensive line is a shambles, and the defense has been a mess since defensive coordinator Todd Bowles took over.
But that doesn’t mean the Eagles don’t have things to play for, notably the following five.
Can Bryce Brown Learn to Secure the Football?
The Philadelphia Eagles have found an absolute gem in Bryce Brown. A seventh-round rookie, Brown has rushed for 178 and 169 yards in his two NFL starts. He’s scored multiple touchdowns in each game, and he’s averaging a ridiculous 6.5 yards per carry.
Brown has also coughed up the football three times in his 43 carries as the feature back. That’s a rate that will put him squarely on the bench should it continue.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the league’s stingiest run defense. They’re leading the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed and fewest rushing yards allowed per attempt.
The Buccaneers held Cam Newton and company to just 10 rushing yards on 16 carries in the season opener. They limited DeMarco Murray to 38 rushing yards on 18 carries in Week 3. And they shut down Darren McFadden in Week 9 (17 rushing yards).
Brown will have a tough task ahead of him. It’s going to be tough enough to gain yards, but defensive linemen like Gerald McCoy and Michael Bennett now know about Brown’s struggles to hold on to the football. They’ll definitely be trying for a strip or two.
Will Nick Foles Build off of Last Week’s Strong Performance?
Nick Foles turned in easily his finest NFL game last week against the Dallas Cowboys. He completed 22-of-34 passes for 251 yards, one touchdown pass and no interceptions.
Foles showed impressive confidence in the pocket, and he releases the ball very quickly. He will be facing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that rates dead last in the league in passing yards allowed. The Buccaneers have been torched by Eli Manning (510 yards), Carson Palmer (414) and Drew Brees (377).
They’ve given up at least 229 passing yards in every game this season. Half the time they’ve allowed at least 300.
That should bode very well for Foles, who is essentially trying out for the starting job in 2013.
Does the Secondary Have a Prayer Against Josh Freeman?
While the Buccaneers secondary may rate last in the league in passing yards allowed, it is nowhere near the mess that Philadelphia's defensive backfield is.
Despite highly touted cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Eagles are contending for the worst secondary in league history. Since Todd Bowles took over as defensive coordinator six games ago, the Eagles are allowing a completion percentage of nearly 80 percent. They’ve allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw 16 touchdowns against zero interceptions for a passer rating of 142.3.
There’s no reason Josh Freeman can’t do what the rest of the quarterbacks have done against Bowles.
Can Kicker Alex Henery Keep Up His Streak?
Alex Henery has emerged as the finest kicker in the National Football League. He’s converted 21 consecutive field goals, a franchise record.
Henery has missed just once this season and only four times in his two-year NFL career. Henery converted all three of his field-goal attempts last week, with each kick coming from over 40 yards.
With an offense that has struggled to score in the red zone, Henery’s value is even greater to the Eagles.
Will Brandon Graham Continue His Fine Season?
For his first two NFL seasons, Brandon Graham was viewed as a borderline NFL bust. The Eagles had selected Graham with the 13th overall selection in the 2010 draft, and he responded with just three sacks in two years.
Graham has been playing much better in 2012, generating constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks. According to Pro Football Focus, Graham rates as the second-best 4-3 defensive end in the league.
He’s registered 18 quarterback hurries on just 244 snaps. That’s a hurry every 13.6 snaps. Compare that to J.J. Watt (one every 34 snaps), Cameron Wake (one every 19 snaps) or Von Miller (one every 18 snaps).
That’s an elite pace, and getting a couple of sacks of Josh Freeman would be huge for Eagles fans hoping Graham can be a Pro Bowler by next season.