1. The Eagles turned in one of their best offensive performances of the season last week against Dallas, coming up with points on six of 10 possessions. Overall, though, the Birds are 29th in scoring offense, averaging 18.1 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 25th – 26th in passing and 19th in rushing. The Bucs are 19th in scoring defense, allowing 23.8 points per game. Football Outsiders has Tampa ranked 16th defensively – 23rd against the pass and 2nd against the run.
2. Let’s talk about Nick Foles. The rookie turned in what was easily his best performance of the season last week, completing 22 of 34 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown (All-22 breakdown here). One key for Foles was putting the ball in places where receivers could pick up yards after the catch. Marty Mornhinweg indicated this week that he’s raising the expectation level for Foles.
“Nick and I have talked about that,” Mornhinweg said. “All of this progressing and all of that is over now. We are no longer rookies – that’s done. We expect to play at a high level consistently.”
3. Foles will have shots downfield against the Bucs’ secondary. Tampa has allowed 52 pass plays of 20+ yards, second-most in the league. Foles has only completed two passes that have traveled more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage all season. Tampa’s starting corners are E.J. Biggers and Leonard Johnson. Johnson is an undrafted free agent, and Biggers has 20 career starts. The Bucs go with veteran Ronde Barber and rookie first-round pick Mark Barron at safety.
4. The Eagles face a huge challenge in running the football. Bryce Brown has piled up 347 yards on 43 carries the past two weeks, averaging a ridiculous 8.1 yards per carry. But he’s fumbled three times. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown is averaging 4.2 yards after contact, the top mark in the league. He’s been decisive and hard to bring down. The Bucs are the only team in the NFL that has held opponents to under 3.5 yards per carry.
5. The Eagles’ offensive line has shown serious signs of improvement the past two weeks. Foles has only been sacked twice, and Brown has had all kinds of room to run. Rookie Dennis Kelly looks more comfortable at right tackle than he did at guard. Jake Scott has stepped in after having not played all season and provided an upgrade over former first-round pick Danny Watkins. Dallas Reynolds has been really good in the run game, despite playing with an ankle injury. Evan Mathis is playing some of the best football of his career, and King Dunlap held his own last week against DeMarcus Ware.
6. The Bucs have just 18 sacks on the season (30th). Left defensive end Michael Bennett has seven and will match up with Kelly. Scott will face a major test going up against 2010 No. 3 overall pick Gerald McCoy. Dunlap will square off with Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. You remember that name, right? Te’o-Nesheim was a third-round pick by the Eagles back in 2010. He only played in six games as a rookie and then was released before the 2011 season. Te’o-Nesheim has two sacks on the season.
7. Speaking of that 2010 draft, the Eagles selected 13 players. Six are still on the roster: Brandon Graham, Nate Allen, Riley Cooper, Clay Harbor, Jamar Chaney and Kurt Coleman. While you can certainly debate the Graham pick, he’s had a good year and looks like he can be productive when healthy. Allen has been a disappointment. Cooper has shown some upside when given the opportunity. Harbor and Chaney are backups. And Coleman probably should be one too.
8. Foles should expect a heavy dose of blitzing. Tampa blitzed Peyton Manning 15 times last week and Matt Ryan 11 times the week before, according to Pro Football Focus. Foles will have to keep an eye on rookie WILL linebacker Lavonte David, who has blitzed a team-high 120 times. He also has a team-high 108 tackles. Barber’s blitzed 96 times and has a sack, forced fumble and four interceptions. Foles was solid last week against extra pressure, completing five of eight passes for 54 yards.
9. It will be interesting to find out what the team thinks of Jeremy Maclin this offseason. In three starts with Nick Foles, he’s got a total of eight catches for 93 yards. He hasn’t done much to warrant arguments that he could be a No. 1 receiver on another team. Maclin is a free agent after the 2013 season, but the Eagles could certainly make a decision on him before then.
10. The Eagles are 27th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 44.4 percent of the time. The Bucs are 10th in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 50 percent of the time. …The Eagles are 14th in third-down offense, converting on 39.3 percent of their opportunities. The Bucs are 27th in third-down defense allowing conversions 42.4 percent of the time.