It’s never that simple, and in this case it is also way off base. The Birds should have their talons full in Week 6 with an opponent that’s lost three games by a combined total of six points.
It seems the Bucs are not quite the portrait of dysfunction they appear to be from afar. Sure, there was a bitter divorce from the supposed franchise quarterback (Josh Freeman) less than a month into the season, but they still have a roster stocked with high-end talent—especially on defense.
Actually, Tampa boasts one of the better all-around units in the NFL.
That could spell trouble, no matter who is under center for the Eagles—likely Nick Foles in this case. Foles is expected to make his first start of 2013 after replacing an injured Michael Vick in New York this past Sunday.
Not exactly a matchup that eases the second-year quarterback into the flow—although he certainly didn’t experience much trouble getting back up to speed against the Giants. Foles completed 16-of-25 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
We’ll delve a bit deeper into what Philly’s signal-caller faces in Tampa Bay this Sunday in just a bit, although it’s not like the Bucs are in a much better situation. Their quarterback will be making just his second career start on Sunday, which should provide the Eagles a healthy advantage to begin with.
Philadelphia Defense vs. Tampa Bay Offense
Make Mike Glennon Win
The game plan for the defense is really very straightforward. If the Bucs are going to beat them, it’s because third-round draft pick Mike Glennon puts the team on his shoulders and carries them across the finish line. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to cheat you out of the usual dual goals for both sides of the football—it’s a two-step plan.
Part one is simple in theory: Concentrate on and stop Doug Martin.
So far, so good for opposing defenses in previous weeks. The second-year back may be third in the NFL in rushing yards per game this season (85.5), but he’s also first in attempts (100). Those 3.4 yards per carry should be manageable even for the Birds’ 17th-ranked run defense.
Martin is the one player on the Bucs offense who can take over a game by himself. Bring a safety into the box, do whatever it takes—just don’t let this kid run wild.
After all, Tampa Bay has the 32nd-ranked passing offense in the NFL.
As for the rookie passer, just don’t give him anything easy. Oddly enough, the game plan the Eagles used on Eli Manning in their last game would probably work perfectly.
Don’t let TB wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams beat the secondary deep.
If Glennon can lead long drives throwing the ball down the field without turning it over, so be it. Giving him huge chunks of yards at a time, however, will not only result in more points but limit the opportunities for takeaways.
In his NFL debut in Week 4, Glennon completed 24 of 43 passes for 193 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions—both giveaways coming in the fourth quarter. The Bucs scored just 10 points.
The Eagles want him throwing the ball 40 times as long as that’s close to the kind of production those attempts are getting.
Philadelphia Offense vs. Tampa Bay Defense
Get the Tight Ends Involved in the Passing Attack
DeSean Jackson has struggled to create separation against physical cornerbacks, and Darrelle Revis is as good as they get. When Jackson last visited Revis Island in 2011, he was held to two receptions for 28 yards.
Other Eagles wide receivers have been virtually useless this season, which means Nick Foles could have his work cut out for him when he drops back to pass. Fortunately, the second-year quarterback already makes better use of some of his other options than the starter.
The tight ends were suddenly in play when Foles came into the game this past Sunday, especially Brent Celek. Celek reeled in all three of his receptions for 47 yards on passes by Foles, including a diving touchdown in the end zone. Rookie Zach Ertz also hauled in one pass from Foles for 14 yards.
Foles’ passes intended for tight ends were 4-of-4 for 61 yards and a score, compared to 12-of-21 for 136 yards and a touchdown to everyone else.
That’s efficiency, folks.
Finding the tight end might be a necessity for Foles with Riley Cooper doing so little on the perimeter and Jason Avant inconsistent in the slot. Fortunately, a couple of tight ends have had success against Tampa Bay. Kellen Winslow had 79 yards and a TD for the New York Jets in Week 1, while New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham went for 170 yards and a score in Week 2.
Take the Points—Win the Field Position Battle
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a foolproof game plan for every opponent? And the players could just execute everything the coaching staff devises?
I think the Eagles would do well to accept ahead of time the idea that their offense may be somewhat limited on Sunday. They have the backup quarterback in the game, their lone productive receiver will be on Revis Island, and they’re going up against one of the stingiest run defenses in the NFL—Tampa Bay is the only team in the league that has yet to concede a touchdown on the ground.
The Eagles aren’t going to stop handing the ball off to LeSean McCoy, and Nick Foles isn’t going to curl up into the fetal position. They probably just aren’t going to have their way with the Bucs’ defense either.
Chip Kelly was known for an aggressive coaching style at Oregon—they didn’t call him “Big Balls Chip" for nothing—and while he surprised with his conservatism in more than one situation this season, eschewing field goals and punts for an opportunity to convert on fourth down is part of his nature.
Well, he needs to suppress that on Sunday.
The Bucs have been involved in a lot of close games this season because they’re holding opponents to 17.5 points per game, yet they’re only averaging 11.0 themselves. That means the Eagles should take whatever points they can get, but punt the ball away and force the Bucs to drive the field whenever possible.