Anyone who has had a chance to watch the Eagles within the past two months will know that they’re not anything like the team that constantly challenged the Buccaneers during the years surrounding the Super Bowl run. Gone are the days of Ronde Barber intercepting Donovan McNabb, and Matt Bryant 60 yard field goals to inspire unlikely victories. Instead, this Eagles team is led by a likely lame duck Andy Reid, quarterbacked by a rookie who has the “arm talent” but still lacks in the mental aspects of quarterbacking, and disappointed by a defense that can’t seem to stop an NFL offense.
The Buccaneers don’t resemble the historic teams from the early 2000’s, either. John Lynch and a younger Ronde Barber would shudder at the mention of the lackluster performances the current Buccaneer pass defense has displayed. However, taking a deeper look at the pass defense reveals the first of our five keys to victory for the Buccaneers this weekend:
1. Don’t Let Nick Foles be Like his NFC East Brethren
So far this season, the Bucs pass defense has been lacking, and a quick look at the numbers reveals a defensive unit that surrenders the most yards per game to opposing quarterbacks. In a three-week stretch near the start of the season, Tampa Bay faced Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and Robert Griffin III in successive weeks, and fell victim to each one. Manning opened the floodgates with a precise outing, finding Hakeem Nicks at will. On the other hand, the Buccaneers have had success defending the pass against less competent quarterbacks, such as Brady Quinn and Christian Ponder, and they will need to do the same to Foles on Sunday. Foles has a cannon for an arm, as he displayed by hitting Jason Avant squarely in the helmet on one of his first throws in the regular season. However, the Eagles offense is lacking in talent in terms of options to pass the ball to, and Foles lacks the athletic ability to be a true dual threat. Limiting the big play from Jeremy Maclin will certainly help limit the Eagles passing attack.
2. Bryce Brown Doesn’t Want to Keep the Ball, so Take it From Him!
Bryce Brown carries the ball like it’s a carton of eggs. He holds it in his hand, and leans it against his forearm, asking for it to be taken away. In his brief stint as the primary ball-carrier for the Eagles, he has fumbled the ball three times, and had another fumble earlier this season while spelling LeSean McCoy. Brown is capable of breaking a big run, and while form tackling will certainly be needed to contain his blazing speed on the edges, a few opportune swipes at the ball may lead to fumbles, and turnovers are the perfect way for the Buccaneers to keep the weakest link of the team (the pass D) off the field.
3. Josh Freeman is at Home, Sweet Home
Josh Freeman has been decidedly better at home this season, and hopefully the friendly confines of a mostly full Raymond James stadium will serve the 4th year QB well. His completion percentage is better at home, and while he has more touchdowns on the road, he has fewer interceptions and a better QB Rating at home on the Bay. Freeman has certainly had flashes of brilliance and moments of frustration this season, and hopefully a home game against a lesser opponent will not only provide him an opportunity to get a victory, but to find a bit of momentum he can carry over into the next few critical weeks.
4. Find DRC and Force him to Tackle…Because he Can’t
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is an extremely talented football player, who has size, strength, and agility. He also shows very poor form on his tackles, and seems to lack motivation to make the routine stop. We know that Doug Martin is one of the toughest runners for defenders to tackle in the league today, so the Buccaneers would do well to give Martin the option to either take a gap up the middle, or bounce the play outside to the zone patrolled by DRC. While it’s obviously foolish to gameplan around one player, any quick passes, runs, and slants in the direction of the Bradenton native cornerback may result in the kind of big play the Buccaneers could use to bury the Eagles in this matchup.
5. Limit Costly Mistakes
The Buccaneers have been penalized quite often this season, and many of the penalties seem to happen when they are most impactful on the game. (The illegal touching on a potential game-winning touchdown pass being the obvious example) The Buccaneers give too many second chances, and will need to limit these mistakes against an inferior opponent such as the Eagles. Obviously turnovers will need to be avoided as well, but penalties have been much more of an Achilles heel for the Buccaneers this season, as they are top 10 in penalties, but are amongst the bottom 5 in total turnovers this season (and in this case, unlike pass defense, being in the bottom 5 is a good thing.)
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