The Bucs (4-1) travel to Philadelphia to play the Eagles (2-3) on Thursday Night Football. Tampa Bay is coming off a 45-17 win at home over Miami. Philadelphia returns home after beating Carolina on the road, 21-18.
Due to postgame coverage on Friday, there won’t be an SR’s Fab 5 this week, but here are my four matchups to watch on offense and defense. These matchups usually appear in each week’s SR’s Fab 5 column.
4 Match-Ups To Watch: Bucs Offense vs. Eagles Defense
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Bucs C Ryan Jensen vs. Eagles DT Javon Hargrave
Bucs QB Tom Brady and C Ryan Jensen – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Hargrave is off to a monstrous start to the 2021 season. The 6-foot-2, 305-pounder is a wrecking ball up front for the Eagles. He’s already making a Pro Bowl bid with six sacks, seven tackles-for-loss and a forced fumble in five games. Hargrave has great strength and suddenness and will not only be a factor in trying to ruin the Bucs’ interior ground game, but also push the pocket and pressure Tom Brady in the passing game. He’s not in Aaron Donald’s class physically, but he is just as good in terms of production this season.
Jensen will have a challenge on his hands when Hargrave lines up in the weakside A or B gap with his interior rushes. There are times when Jensen will be isolated on Hargrave and he’ll have to win those one-on-one battles. Other times Jensen will be helping out either left guard Ali Marpet with Hargrave or right guard Alex Cappa with an aging Fletcher Cox, who is still dangerous. Jensen will need to play his best game of the season against Hargrave and Cox, which will be the best 1-2 punch at defensive tackle the Bucs have faced all season. ADVANTAGE: Push
Tampa Bay WR Mike Evans vs. Philadelphia CB Darius Slay
Bucs WRs Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Slay has been one of the better cornerbacks in the league for some time now, and hasn’t shown signs of slowing down at age 30. The 6-foot, 190-pound Slay has enough size to give the 6-foot-5 Evans some fits, and the speed (4.36) to keep up with him vertically. Slay, a three-time Pro Bowler, leads the Eagles with two interceptions and has given up 17 catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns in 2021.
Evans is coming off a six-catch, 113-yard, two-touchdown performance against Miami. Slay often plays the left cornerback position, so when Evans is lined up on the right side of the offense, this will be the matchup. Both of Evans’ TDs last week came on that side of the field. Evans leads Tampa Bay in catches, yards and touchdowns this season. That shouldn’t change after Thursday night. ADVANTAGE: Evans
Bucs WR Chris Godwin vs. Eagles CB Avonte Maddox
Bucs WR Chris Godwin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Maddox is a smaller, fast slot cornerback at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds. With 4.39 speed he can hang with Godwin in the slot and he’s done a good job of not allowing slot receivers to make big plays. Maddox has surrendered just 12 catches for 93 yards and one touchdown this year, and has two pass breakups. Despite his smaller stature, the Eagles will also blitz Maddox and he has a sack through the first five games. But does he have the size to match up against a really physical slot receiver like Godwin?
Godwin has been somewhat limited over the last two weeks against New England and Miami because of the style of coverage those teams have played. Godwin was held to three catches for 55 yards against the Patriots and seven catches for 70 yards versus the Dolphins. Born in Philadelphia and raised in Delaware, Godwin will want to show out in his hometown and will have the size advantage over Maddox to do just that. He’ll face a different style of zone coverage, which should free him up and allow him to hit or be close to 100 yards on Thursday night. ADVANTAGE: Godwin
Tampa Bay LT Donovan Smith vs. Philadelphia DE Josh Sweat
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Sweat is having a better start to the season than more accomplished fellow edge rushers Derek Barnett, Ryan Kerrigan and Brandon Graham, who is on injured reserve. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Florida State product has 1.5 sacks and 16 tackles on the year thus far. The former fourth-round pick has the size and length to be a real problem against the run game and also as a pass rusher. He’ll need to play well against Smith for the Eagles to have a chance at slowing down Tom Brady and the Bucs’ potent passing game.
Smith is off to the best start of his career and is truly playing at a Pro Bowl level through the first five games. The big, 6-foot-5, 336-pound left tackle has incorporated a nasty snatch-and-trap that has him overpowering his opponents. And he’s only been flagged three times in five games. Smith has surrendered just one sack this season, too. That was in Week 2 to Dante Fowler, but that was mostly due to Brady holding onto the ball too long. ADVANTAGE: Smith
4 Match-Ups To Watch: Bucs Defense vs. Eagles Offense
Bucs ILB Devin White vs. Eagles QB Jalen Hurts
Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Hurts is having a great start to his first full year as a starter in Philadelphia. He’s completing nearly 65 percent of his passes for 1,365 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. As one of the NFL’s best dual-threat QBs, Hurts is also doing some damage with his legs. Whether it’s scrambles or designed QB runs, Hurts has rushed for a team-leading 256 yards and a touchdown while averaging 6.0 yards per carry. When Hurts leaves the pocket, he’ll be running towards Kevin Minter, forcing the replacement linebacker to have to make an open-field tackle.
Unlike Minter, White has the speed to go sideline-to-sideline and chase Hurts down. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will have to mix up blitzing White at Hurts and using him as a spy to prevent big yardage on scrambles. When White does blitz he needs to come in under control. He’s already missed a few sacks by running past the quarterback this season. White is coming off a good game where he had eight tackles and played much more under control. He’ll need a similar effort on Thursday night to limit Hurts’ multidimensional ability. ADVANTAGE: Push
Tampa Bay NT Vita Vea vs. Philadelphia C Jason Kelce
Bucs NT Vita Vea – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Still in his prime, Kelce is one of the best centers in the league. He’s made four Pro Bowls and been named All-Pro three times. The 33-year old veteran is as crafty and savvy as they come, and he relies on technique to win due to his 6-foot-3, 295-pound frame. That’s smallish by today’s standards in the NFL, where it’s rare to find offensive linemen that are under 300 pounds. Kelce will have his hands full against Vea, who is just an absolute mountain of a man.
At 6-foot-4, 347 pounds, Vea has over 50 pounds of sheer size and strength on Kelce. Bowles’ game plan will likely be to single up Vea on Kelce as much as possible with some A gap blitzes from White and Kevin Minter so that the Bucs’ nose tackle can use his size and power to his advantage. Vea recorded his first half-sack of the season on Sunday. He could drive Kelce back into Hurts’ lap on Thursday night for another sack, while wrecking the Eagles’ attempts to run the football. ADVANTAGE: Vea
Bucs LB Kevin Minter vs. Eagles RB Miles Sanders
Bucs ILB Kevin Minter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Sanders and rookie running back Kenneth Gainwell are nearly identical. Sanders is 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, while Gainwell is slightly smaller at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds. Both are averaging over 4.5 yards per carry, with Sanders rushing for 214 yards on twice as many carries to lead the way. Both running backs are excellent receivers, with Sanders catching 16 passes for 111 yards and Gainwell hauling in 14 passes for 122 yards. Sanders will get more opportunities because he’s the starter. The Eagles will have to like what they saw with Dolphins halfback Myles Gaskin catching 10 passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns against the Bucs last Sunday.
Minter will be filling in for injured starting weakside linebacker Lavonte David and he’s not nearly as fast or as athletic. Minter’s strength is going forward – not in reverse. He’s not the best in coverage due to his limited range, and the Eagles will want to try to get Minter singled up in coverage with Sanders (or Gainwell) on angle routes in the middle of the field or wheel routes down the sideline to try to create big plays. ADVANTAGE: Sanders
Tampa Bay CB Jamel Dean vs. Philadelphia WR Quez Watkins
Bucs CB Jamel Dean – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Watkins is Philadelphia’s speedster and vertical threat. At 6-foot, 193 pounds, Watkins can fly, as he blazed a 4.35 time prior to the 2020 NFL Draft. He has hauled in 13 catches for 267 yards for a ridiculous 20.8 average. Watkins has a 91-yard catch on the season, and had a 53-yard catch last week against Carolina. The Eagles will try to get their former sixth-round pick matched up on a slower cornerback like Richard Sherman or Ross Cockrell. If that happens the Bucs will definitely need safety help over the top.
Dean is the only defensive back with the speed to keep up with Watkins. He’s not 100 percent, as he’s still dealing with a knee injury that caused him to miss the Week 4 game at New England. Yet he returned to action and played well against Miami. Dean finished with five tackles, two pass breakups and an interception – his first in nearly a year. That performance likely gave him a confidence boost. He’ll need confidence and consistency heading into Philly against Watkins. ADVANTAGE: Push
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 spent six years 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
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