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OPPONENT: Philadelphia Eagles
WHERE: Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA WHERE THE EAGLES STAND: The Eagles are 2-1 and in second place in the NFC East division.
EAGLES HEAD COACH: Andy Reid EAGLES OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Marty Mornhinweg EAGLES DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Sean McDermott EAGLES SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Ted Daisher
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 27th (280 ypg) RUSHING: 23rd (97 ypg) PASSING: 24th (183 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 31st (394 ypg) RUSHING: 30th (172 ypg) PASSING: 17th (222 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … the Eagles have played in the NFC Championship Game in five of the past eight seasons?
SCOUTING THE EAGLES
Quarterbacks Philadelphia has played without starting QB Donovan McNabb for three straight games due to a fractured rib he suffered in a Week 1 win over Carolina. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound McNabb completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 79 yards and tossed two touchdowns and one interception while carrying the ball four times for 27 yards and a score in that contest.
McNabb was replaced by QB Kevin Kolb, a former second-round draft pick. He played well, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 741 yards and four touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Eagles had an extra week to prepare for the Bucs thanks to their bye. That also bought McNabb time to return to action, which he's expected to do vs. the Bucs.
Although it's not the same defensive scheme, some members of the Bucs defense are quite familiar with McNabb. The Bucs and Eagles last met in 2006. Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber intercepted him two times in that contest. Ironically, Tampa Bay second-year CB Aqib Talib is coming off a three-pick performance vs. Washington.
The Bucs defense, which ranks 31st in the NFL, could reap the benefits of facing McNabb in his first action back from the rib injury should he have rust to shake off, evidenced by Barber's recent success vs. the signal caller.
Even if McNabb returns to action, the Eagles likely will use QB Michael Vick (6-0, 215) in some Wild Cat formations. Vick's athleticism will test Tampa Bay's discipline and tackling on defense.
Running Backs Eagles head coach and offensive playcaller Andy Reid favors the passing game in his version of the West Coast system. However, he has two talented players to lean on in the running game in veteran Brian Westbrook and rookie LeSean McCoy.
Westbrook (5-10, 203) established himself as one of the most dangerous and productive backs in the league, but is no longer in his prime. An ankle injury has limited the amount of playing time Westbrook has seen. He has carried the ball 26 times for 116 yards (4.5 avg.).
McCoy (5-10, 198) has led Philly's ground attack with 34 carries for 148 yards (4.4 avg.) and one touchdown. McCoy isn't as dangerous as Westbrook in the passing game, but he's a dangerous player that is capable of carrying the workload on offense.
With McNabb returning from his rib injury, the Eagles could run the football quite a bit vs. the Bucs, who rank 30th in the NFL in that category, surrendering 172 yards per game.
Receivers Tampa Bay's defense has been victimized by several deep passing plays that have led to touchdowns this season. That's the risk involved with Jim Bates' man-to-man scheme. Expect the Eagles to follow that blueprint for success.
Eagles second-year WR DeSean Jackson is one of the league's fastest players. The former second-round pick doesn't catch a lot of passes in games, but when he does he makes them count. Jackson (5-10, 175) has 12 catches for 259 yards (21.6 avg.) and two touchdowns through three games. The Bucs must also account for WR Jason Avant (6-0, 212), who has 10 receptions for 111 yards and one score.
Philly's receivers will be covered by Bucs cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib. Barber has had great success vs. McNabb in the past, including his interception return for a touchdown in the 2003 NFC Championship Game to send the Bucs to the Super Bowl. While Talib has allowed a few receivers to beat him down the sideline for touchdowns, he is also coming off an impressive three-interception performance vs. the Redskins.
One of the reasons why Philadelphia's offense is converting 42.9 percent of its third downs is because of Eagles tight end Brent Celek. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound Celek has caught a team-leading 22 catches for 245 yards (11.1 avg.) and two touchdowns. He has helped to make up for the absence of rookie TE Cornelius Ingram, who is on injured reserve. Celek's production isn't good news for Bucs linebackers Geno Hayes and Quincy Black, or the team's starting safeties. The Bucs had trouble containing Redskins TE Chris Cooley last week. He had five catches and scored a 17-yard touchdown vs. Tampa Bay. The good news for the Bucs is their defense has suspended S Tanard Jackson back in action after a four-game absence.
Offensive Line Philadelphia's offensive line is massive. In fact, it might be bigger than the group the Bucs faced in Week 1 vs. the Cowboys. The Bucs defensive line is coming off one of its better outings vs. the Redskins, but the Eagles pose a much bigger challenge.
Bucs defensive end Gaines Adams is looking to build on his impressive performance vs. the ‘Skins. That won't be easy as he faces two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, whose 6-foot-4, 340-pound frame could prove to be difficult to work around.
If Adams doesn't find success, Bucs DE Jimmy Wilkerson needs to take advantage of his matchup with Eagles RT Winston Justice (6-6, 320), who is in the starting lineup, but has been a disappointment since entering the league as a second-round pick in 2006. Justice is playing in place of two-time Pro Bowler Shawn Andrews, who is on injured reserve.
The interior offensive line play has not been as consistent as the Eagles would like. Left guard Nick Cole (6-0, 350), center Jamaal Jackson (6-4, 330) and right guard Max Jean-Giles (6-3, 258) have had some mixed outings. However, the Eagles still have only surrendered three sacks on 117 pass attempts while rushing for an average of 106 yards per contest. Bucs defensive tackles Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims, with the help of rookie DT Roy Miller, must find a way to push the pocket in order for Adams and Wilkerson to collapse it on passing downs. That might be difficult to do, as the Bucs appear to be at a serious size disadvantage in the trenches.
Defensive Line The Eagles faced a tremendous amount of adversity heading into the 2009 season when defensive coordinator Jim Johnson passed away. He had been battling skin cancer. Philadelphia secondary coach Sean McDermott succeeded Bates and is operating under a similar, aggressive philosophy.
Philadelphia's 4-3 defense has two capable pass rushers in left end Victor Abiamiri (6-5, 267) and right end Trent Cole (6-3, 270). Abiamiri, who is considered a versatile defensive lineman, still is looking for his first sack of the season and will be matched up with Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Trueblood has had some trouble with false start penalties and cannot afford to put the Bucs in those types of obvious passing situations with second-year QB Josh Johnson making his second career start in the NFL in a loud stadium. The Eagles will lean on reserve DE Jugua Parker in obvious passing situations. In those instances, Parker likely will replace Abiamiri at left end. Parker has two of Philly's 10 sacks through three games this season.
Bucs left tackle Donald Penn has been outstanding in pass protection. That's good news for the Bucs since he will be face Cole, who leads the Eagles in sacks with 2.5 and has a forced fumble. Penn must continue to do a good job of protecting the blindside of the quarterback, but that won't be easy against Cole, who has 32 career sacks over the past three and a quarter seasons.
The Bucs will be without starting center Jeff Faine for at least another week due to his triceps injury. Sean Mahan had one of his better games vs. the Redskins, but he still has plenty of room for improvement. He'll need to hold up well at the point of attack vs. Eagles defensive tackles Brodrick Bunkley (6-2, 305) and Mike Patterson (6-0, 292). These two defensive tackles are two of the league's best and will give the Bucs offense fits in terms of running the football with Cadillac Williams, Earnest Graham and Derrick Ward, who missed last Sunday's game due to a knee injury. The Bucs could use Ward as he's quite familiar with Philly's defense from his playing days in the NFC East with the New York Giants.
Linebackers The Eagles received a devastating blow on defense when they were forced to place starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley on injured reserve in early-September. His season-ending injury robbed Philly's defense of athleticism and a physical presence in the middle.
The Eagles attempted to fill Bradley's void by moving outside linebacker Omar Gaither (6-2, 245) over to the middle. While Gaither is second on the team in tackles and has 1.5 sacks, the Eagles are looking for an upgrade and recently re-signed seasoned veteran LB Jeremiah Trotter (6-1, 262). It is unclear which player will start vs. the Bucs, but Trotter has received some first-team reps in practice this week.
Philly is fairly fast and strong at the outside linebacker positions. Former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was notorious for dialing up a variety of blitzes, and McDermott is capable and willing to do the same to opposing offenses.
Weakside linebacker Akeem Jordan (6-1, 230) replaced Gaither in the starting lineup late last season and excels in pass coverage, which means Bucs QB Josh Johnson, who will need to use his mobility to help keep the Eagles defense off balance, could have some difficulty getting the ball to TE Kellen Winslow. When Johnson does attempt to pass to Winslow he'll need to be careful. In addition to his one sack, Jordan also has two interceptions through three games.
Eagles strongside linebacker Chris Gocong (6-2, 263) is considered an excellent run defender, but Tampa Bay must find a way to establish the ground game in this contest as it can't afford to have Johnson throw too many times against a dangerous and talented Eagles secondary.
Secondary Philly's defense is littered with talent, and its secondary is no exception. The Eagles have the second-ranked pass defense in the NFL, allowing just 156 yards through the air and 262 yards overall per game this season.
Bucs wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton might have a tough time getting open against Eagles cornerbacks Asante Samuel (5-10, 185) and Sheldon Brown (5-10, 200). Philly's starting cornerbacks have combined for three interceptions, and Samuel notched six picks in his Eagles debut last year.
Philadelphia's defense trusts Samuel and Brown so much in coverage that it plays strong safety Quintin Mikell (5-11, 206), who leads the team in tackles, near the line of scrimmage more often than not in an effort to help stuff the run while rookie cornerback-turned-free safety Macho Harris patrols the secondary.
The Eagles likely will follow a similar philosophy vs. the Bucs. Last week, Bucs QB Josh Johnson was hesitant to throw the ball downfield. If Tampa Bay is going to have any success moving the ball vs. Philly, Johnson will have to pull the trigger and test the Eagles secondary in the passing game. Johnson has the arm strength to get the ball deep downfield, but the second-year signal caller's accuracy and confidence are in question at this point.
Philadelphia's secondary is one of the main reasons why the Eagles are allowing opposing offenses to convert just 22.5 percent of their third down opportunities. Tampa Bay has struggled mightily on third downs in 2009. In fact, the Bucs converted just 15 percent of those plays vs. the Redskins last week. It will be a long day for Tampa Bay in Philadelphia if the Bucs offense can't keep the chains moving in this contest.
Special Teams Tampa Bay parted ways with kicker Mike Nugent after watching him go 2-of-6 on field goal attempts through four games. Philadelphia can't relate as it has one of the most accurate field goal kickers in league history in David Akers, who has made 5-of-6 (83.3 percent) of his field goal tries this season. Akers' only miss came from 50-plus yards out.
Akers and Eagles punter Say Rocca will be kicking to Bucs second-year return specialist Clifton Smith, who has not been as productive as he was last year en route to the Pro Bowl. Expect Akers to follow the blueprint used by other teams in terms of sending sky kicks and ground balls Smith's way in an effort to limit his success in the return game.
Rocca is averaging 43.3 yards per punt. He's pinned three of his 12 attempts inside the 20-yard line. Smith must find a way to gain serious yardage in the return game as Tampa Bay's offense, led by second-year QB Josh Johnson, will be hard pressed to sustain long scoring drives vs. Philadelphia's defense.
New Bucs K Shane Andrus and P Dirk Johnson must be careful when kicking to Philadelphia's return specialists, and the team's coverage units must be sound in terms of taking good angles and tackling well. Eagles kickoff return man Ellis Hobbs is averaging 25.5 yards per attempt with a long of 63. Punt returner DeSean Jackson poses the biggest threat. He is averaging an impressive 22.2 yards per attempt and has already reached the end zone on an 85-yard return. FLYNN'S FORECAST: Eagles 34 Buccaneers 6