EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 27: Walter Thurmond #26 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates after intercepting a pass in the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 27, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers improved to 4-5 thanks to a 10-6 home victory over the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday. What are the six things PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s upcoming game at Philadelphia where the Eagles are 4-5 after a loss to Miami last week? Find out right here in SR’s Pick 6.
Who: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles
Where: Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa.
When: 1:00 p.m. ET – FOX
Last meeting: 31-20 loss to Philadelphia in 2013
Series notes: Eagles have an 8-5 advantage over Buccaneers all-time
1. DON’T LET A BACKUP BEAT YOU, PART II
After going 0-3 against backup quarterbacks last year, Tampa Bay did a great job against Dallas backup QB Matt Cassel last week, keeping the Cowboys out of the end zone, sacking him three times and picking him off in the end zone in a 10-6 victory. The Bucs were able to play a lot of man coverage – thanks to improved cornerback play from Sterling Moore and Jude Adjei-Barimah – and blitz Cassel in holding the Cowboys to just 216 yards of total offense.
The Bucs will be facing their second backup quarterback in as many weeks as Mark Sanchez will be replacing injured starter Sam Bradford, who is out with a concussion and a shoulder injury. Sanchez has completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 156 yards with one interception and no touchdowns in relief duty this year, but completed 64.1 percent of his throws for 2,418 yards with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a part-time starter last year. Sanchez is a better quarterback than Cassel, but he’s not good enough to beat the Bucs if their defense plays as well as it did last Sunday.
Eagles defense – Photo by: Getty Images
2. PRECISION PASSING TO AVOID BALLHAWKING EAGLES
Bucs rookie quarterback Jameis Winston hasn’t completed more than 56 percent of his passes the last three games, but part of his shortcoming in this area is a bunch of dropped passes – most notably from Mike Evans. Yet, Winston admits he wasn’t as sharp as he needed to be last week against Dallas and a pair of passes that were thrown behind his intended receivers were picked off by safety Jeff Heath. That snapped a four-game stretch without a turnover. Winston must be more accurate with his passes this week at Philadelphia, especially when throwing to targets other than Evans that might not have as big of a catch radius.
If Winston isn’t on target the Eagles defense will make him pay. Philadelphia has 12 interceptions this year, which is the fourth highest total this season. Eagles defensive backs Walter Thurmond III (three), Nolan Caroll II (two), Malcolm Jenkins (one), Byron Maxwell (one) and rookie Eric Rowe (one) have combined for eight of those picks. Winston likes to throw jump balls to the 6-foot-5 Evans, but the Eagles have a pair of big, 6-foot-1 corners in Carroll and Maxwell that have great leaping ability, too. Winston needs to be accurate in Philly than he has been in recent weeks to avoid costly turnovers.
3. BLITZ EAGLES’ GROUND GAME
Eagles coach and offensive play-caller Chip Kelly runs four basic running plays – inside zone, outside zone, sweep and power. Many of those plays have the read-option element to them and take advantage of defenses reading and reacting rather than attacking. The offensive line preys on hesitation, as the read-option is designed to freeze the unblocked defensive end that must account for the quarterback faking the handoff and running himself. By successfully doing this, it takes away the backside defensive end and eliminates one potential tackler on the defense. The Bucs must play man-to-man against Philadelphia’s average receiving corps led by Jordan Matthews and bring a safety into the box to help defend against DeMarco Murray, who is only averaging 3.5 yards per carry and has rushed for 451 yards and four touchdowns.
Ryan Mathews, who is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has 427 yards and five touchdowns, is out with an injury and he’s more explosive than Murray. The Bucs linebackers and the strong safety must attack their gaps hard with run blitzes and not read and react. With Bradford out with a shoulder injury and a concussion, the Bucs’ backside defensive end must attack Sanchez, who is not much of a running threat, on read-option fakes and drill him. That will prompt Kelly to stop running read-option plays early because he can’t afford to lose Sanchez to injury, too. Without the threat of the read-option the backside defensive end can flow down the line of scrimmage and then make the tackle from behind provided the linebackers and strong safety have filled their gaps effectively.
Eagles PR Darren Sproles – Photo by: Getty Images
4. THROW A BLOCK PARTY AND STIFLE SPROLES
Eagles punter Donnie Jones has had two blocked punts this year, including one returned for a touchdown against Dallas. His most recent blocked punt occurred in last week’s 20-19 loss to Miami when he had a high snap from long snapper Jon Dorenbos, who also had a high snap on a missed field goal. The Bucs have come close to blocking punts, especially at Washington, and need to come through with a big block on special teams.
The Bucs special teamers also need to do a good job containing the dangerous Darren Sproles, who is a Pro Bowl punt returner. Sproles is averaging 12.5 yards per punt return and has an 89-yard touchdown on the season. Sproles had two punt return touchdowns last year and has six in his career. Tampa Bay punter Jacob Schum needs to hang his punts high and create as many fair catch opportunities as possible – even if they only travel 40 yards.
5. UNLEASH THE DOUGERNAURT
Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin is having a fine season with 706 yards and three touchdowns on the ground while averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Martin had three consecutive 100-yard games in October, but November hasn’t been as kind. Martin hasn’t rushed for more than 71 yards in any of the last three games and has been held without a touchdown this month.
Philadelphia’s run defense is middle of the pack, and will be without rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks, who is third on the team and is injured. The Bucs offensive line needs to finish its blocks better on the second level to spring Martin for longer runs. Martin hasn’t averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry in each of the last three games and establishing an effective ground game will help Winston’s play-action passing game. The big question mark will be at right guard where rookie starter Ali Marpet and veteran reserve Evan Smith may be sidelined with injuries. If that’s the case, look for second-year lineman Kevin Pamphile to step in and perform well as he is more than capable as a run blocker.
Bucs head coach Lovie Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
6. SMITH’S SIDELINE NEEDS TO MATCH EAGLES’ TEMPO
Part of what makes Kelly’s offense so difficult to defend is the up-tempo nature of his play-calling. The Eagles want to go up-tempo as much as possible to put stress on the defense and catch opponents off guard in both the running game and the passing game. Sanchez is in his second season with Kelly, so he can execute the up-tempo scheme perfectly.
The Bucs struggled mightily against it three years ago when Greg Schiano was the head coach because oftentimes the defensive calls were late from Tampa Bay’s sidelines. That resulted in confusion and the Bucs being out of position too much on defense in a 31-20 loss to the Eagles. Bucs head coach and defensive play-caller Lovie Smith needs to be quick and decisive in his defensive play calls on Sunday to avoid getting his defense out of position. Perhaps more importantly, Smith cannot waste important timeouts just because he’s slow getting the play calls in from the sidelines.
SR’s Prediction: Buccaneers 23, Eagles 20
Scott Reynolds is in his 22nd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Eagles QB Sam Bradford has a concussion and a shoulder injury that will have the Bucs face turnover prone QB Mark Sanchez. RB Ryan Mathews is also out, LT Jason Peters is questionable and OLB Connor Barwin is probable with a quad injury. The little emperor, HC Chip Kelly has managed to get rid of all the good players and is in a downward spiral. If the Bucs don’t turn the ball over, we send Chip off to USC for his next job. Bucs 28, Eagles 21
wish I knew which JW we will se tomorrow. If he plays well, we win. If he plays ok or poorly I think we lose. He’s been good on the road. I’m betting on improvement on last couple of weeks performance. Bucs 28-21
JW is not myconcern; the DL is for me. Bucs by 2.
Hope your right macabee. Would be nice and it would help a lot if we could put some heat on the QB.
My pick is not an educated pick. It is a loyalty pick. I always pick the Bucs to win. I use NFL PickWatch.com and 85% of all picks made are for the Eagles. But that doesn’t deter old guys like me and Horse who bleed pewter and red from picking our Bucs. Don’t bet money! lol.
Not positive but I think this is the first week that the Bucs had more advantages than the opponent. Bucs 31-20
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