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WHERE: Raymond James Stadium WHERE THE EAGLES STAND: The Eagles are 4-2 and are in first place in the NFC East division. EAGLES HEAD COACH: Andy Reid EAGLES OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Marty Mornhinweg EAGLES DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jim Johnson EAGLES SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: John Harbaugh
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 27th (281.6 ypg) RUSHING: 28th (88.6. ypg) PASSING: 23rd (193.0 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 19th (324.4 ypg) RUSHING: 26th (141.2 ypg) PASSING: 8th (183.2 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … the Eagles currently are ranked third in the NFL in points scored per game (29.8 avg.)?
SCOUTING THE EAGLES
Quarterbacks Terrell Owens is no longer in Philadelphia, and Eagles QB Donovan McNabb certainly isn’t missing him. While he’s only completing 58.7 percent of his pass attempts, McNabb has done a great job of protecting the football, tossing 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions through six games. While he’s not the running threat he used to be, McNabb still can move the chains with his feet. He’s rushed for 87 yards on 17 attempts and has scored three rushing touchdowns. McNabb, who has led Philadelphia to three NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl, is one the best quarterbacks the Bucs defense will face this season.
Running Backs Eagles RB Brian Westbrook has battled through a knee injury this season, and he’s listed as probable for Sunday’s game. However, Westbrook’s knee ailment hasn’t kept him from being productive. The 5-foot-8, 203-pound Westbrook has rushed 71 times for 361 yards (5.1 avg.) and four touchdowns in five games. While Westbrook is an effective runner, the Eagles like to pass the ball and use Westbrook on screen plays. Westbrook has caught 23 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns, and even Tampa Bay’s speedy linebackers and safeties might not be quick enough to cover Westbrook alone. Tampa Bay’s defense will have to be on its game in terms of tackling since Westbrook is quite elusive and completely capable of slipping out of tackles.
Wide Receivers McNabb loves to spread the ball around in Philadelphia’s version of the West Coast offense, which currently is ranked No. 1 overall in the NFL. While Reggie Brown and newcomers Donte’ Stallworth and rookie Hank Baskett are good receivers, Eagles tight end L.J. Smith is McNabb’s favorite target. He’s got excellent hands and runs good routes. He’s hauled in a team-leading 24 passes for 335 yards (14.0 avg.) and two touchdowns this season. Bucs linebackers Ryan Nece and Derrick Brooks will be relied on often to cover Smith. Brown, who will be covered by Bucs cornerback Juran Bolden if Brian Kelly can’t go due to his lingering turf toe injury, is a legitimate deep threat and has caught 21 passes for 412 yards (19.6 avg.) and four touchdowns. That’s not good news for the Bucs since Bolden tends to struggle when left alone with receivers deep downfield. If Bolden does get the start in place of Kelly, expect the Bucs to ask strong safety Jermaine Phillips to help cover Brown (6-1, 197) throughout most of the game. It will be critical for the Bucs’ front seven to stop Westbrook and Philadelphia’s running game so that Phillips doesn’t have to spend a lot of time in the box and can help cover Brown and Smith in the passing game. Stallworth, who was traded to Philadelphia from New Orleans earlier this year, has been a pleasant surprise. He’s caught 12 passes for 248 yards (20.7 avg.) and two touchdowns while serving as a deep and speed threat for the Eagles offense. Bucs CB Ronde Barber and S Will Allen will be charged with the challenging task of containing Stallworth, whom they are quite familiar with dating back to the Bucs-Saints matchups. Philadelphia is converting 38.9 percent of its third down tries, but it’s been the Eagles’ ability to hit big plays that’s allowed the team to average of 402 yards of offense and 30 points per game this season. Tampa Bay’s defense must limit those big plays Sunday.
Offensive Line Philadelphia’s offensive line, which is made up of left tackle William Thomas, left guard Todd Herremans, center Jamaal Jackson, right guard Shawn Andrews and right tackle Jon Runyan, is one of the main reasons why the Eagles are averaging 112 yards rushing per game. This unit is big and athletic, and sells Philadelphia’s variety of screen plays quite well. Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice, who has recorded eight career sacks vs. McNabb, will go up against Thomas, who has played well at left tackle this year. Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan likely will be double teamed by Herremans and Jackson, which will leave new Bucs starting under tackle Ellis Wyms in some interesting matchups with Andrews. The Bucs traded Anthony McFarland to the Colts this week for a second-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, leaving Wyms to go up against the 6-foot-4, 350-pound Andrews, a 2004 first-round draft pick. This matchup doesn’t appear to be favorable for the Bucs seeing as Wyms (6-3, 279) is significantly smaller than Philadelphia’s starting right guard. Although Wyms is starting, the Bucs likely will work Julian Jenkins, Jon Bradley and/or Dewayne White into the rotation. If Philadelphia’s offensive line does have a weakness, it would be its ability to pass protect for McNabb, who has been sacked 15 times through six games this season. Tampa Bay’s defensive line must have good gap control and tackling technique to contain Westbrook. It must also get pressure on McNabb early and often in order to limit Philadelphia’s potent offensive attack.
Defensive Line Tampa Bay should come out attempting to establish the run against Philadelphia’s defense, which will blitz rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski in an effort to rattle the young signal caller and force turnovers. But Philadelphia’s defense doesn’t necessarily need blitzes from its linebackers or safeties to pressure the quarterback or stop the run. Its front four, which is made up of left end Trent Cole, under tackle Mike Patterson, nose tackle Darwin Walker and right end Darren Howard, is penetrating the backfield on its own. Cole, who will go up against Bucs rookie RT Jeremy Trueblood, has recorded a team-leading six sacks this season. Cole’s pass-rushing ability likely will prompt Bucs head coach Jon Gruden to leave a tight end or chip blocker in to help Trueblood on Sunday. Patterson will be matched up with Bucs rookie RG Davin Joseph, who is a better run blocker than he is a pass protector. Joseph had a solid debut last Sunday vs. Cincinnati, but he’ll have his hands full with Patterson, who has notched 1.5 sacks. Like many teams, the Bucs could choose to double team Patterson with Joseph and center John Wade, which would leave Walker in some one-on-one matchups with either Dan Buenning or Sean Mahan, depending on whom the Bucs decide to start at left guard. Walker has benefited from one-on-one matchups throughout most of the season by recording four sacks. Bucs LT Anthony Davis will go up against former Saints DE Darren Howard, who has recorded three sacks. However, Howard is battling a groin injury and is listed as questionable for this contest. Gradkowski’s mobility could help him elude some pressure from Philadelphia’s defense, but Tampa Bay would be wise to run the ball with Cadillac Williams, who is starting to find his groove, early and often against Philadelphia’s defense, which is giving up an average of 104 yards rushing per game.
Linebackers Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson likes to blitz, and although starting linebackers Dhani Jones, Jeremiah Trotter and Shawn Barber have no sacks this season, those plays help free up the defensive linemen to penetrate the backfield and get to the quarterback. Trotter protects the middle of the defense and leads the team in tackles. He also has one interception and three passes defensed. Barber has forced one fumble and defended five passes, but he’s questionable for Sunday’s game with a neck injury, which means Matt McCoy could start in his place. Whether it be in the form of toss sweeps or bootlegs, look for the Bucs to test the perimeter of Philadelphia’s defense since the Eagles appear to be vulnerable at the outside linebacker positions.
Secondary Gruden had Gradkowski throw the ball 44 times vs. Cincinnati last Sunday, and if he gets the right looks he might be crazy enough to have the rookie signal caller attack Philadelphia’s secondary in this game. The Eagles are struggling vs. the pass. In fact, they are ranked 27th in that category and are allowing opposing offenses to throw for 237.7 yards per game. Eagles CB Sheldon Brown will go up against Bucs WR Michael Clayton, who is coming off an emotion high from last Sunday’s game-winning touchdown grab vs. the Bengals. Clayton could have a tough time getting open if the Eagles choose to have free safety Brian Dawkins, who is aging but still is one of the league’s best, help cover Clayton. The Eagles prefer to play Dawkins, who has notched three forced fumbles and one interception, near the line of scrimmage, where he is effective in terms of playing the run and blitzing the quarterback. Eagles CB Lito Sheppard, who has played in just three games this season due to a hand injury but is probable for Sunday’s game, will have the more difficult matchup. He will be charged with the difficult task of covering Bucs speedy WR Joey Galloway, who has hauled in a team-leading 21 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns. However, Gradkowski will have to be careful and more accurate with his throws to Galloway since Sheppard has a team-leading three interceptions this season. Strong safety Michael Lewis, who likely will help Sheppard cover Galloway, has notched one interception. Eagles nickel cornerback Roderick Hood’s doubtful status for Sunday’s game could tempt Gruden to feature more three-receiver sets in an effort to get WR Ike Hilliard or even Galloway in some favorable matchups with Eagles backup nickel cornerback Josello Hanson.
Special Teams David Akers is one of the league’s most accurate kickers. He’s drilled 6-of-8 (75 percent) of his attempts this season, but he’s made 81.7 percent of his career attempts since entering the league in 1998. Akers has got a strong leg, too, evidenced by the fact that he’s drilled 10 field goals from 50 yards or longer during his career. Eagles punter Dirk Johnson is averaging 42.5 yards per punt and has pinned seven of his 31 attempts inside the 20-yard line. With Bucs PR Mark Jones working through a hamstring injury, Johnson could be punting to Bucs newcomer Phillip Buchanon, who has averaged 10.5 yards per return and has returned three punts for touchdowns since entering the league in 2002. Philadelphia’s kick return game has struggled this season. Dexter Wynn has averaged just 20.1 yards per return and has a long of 34. Wynn has been better as a punt returner, averaging 10 yards per attempt. Punter Josh Bidwell must have a good day punting the football, and the team’s coverage units must be on top of their games as the Bucs can’t afford to give the Eagles offense short fields to work with. FLYNN’S FORECAST: Eagles 23 Buccaneers 16