Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ offense matches up with Tampa Bay’s defense.
1. Tampa’s 0-4 record has little to do with its defense. The Bucs rank third overall on D, according to Football Outsiders, and are eighth in scoring (17.5 PPG). They shut out the Cardinals for three quarters in their last game (two weeks ago) before allowing 13 fourth-quarter points. The only touchdown the Bucs allowed came when Arizona started a possession in the red zone following a Mike Glennon interception. The Eagles, meanwhile, rank fifth overall on offense, per Football Outsiders. They are eighth in scoring (27.0 PPG). In their last outing, the Eagles scored 36 points against the Giants, their highest output of the year. Chip Kelly has yet to rule Michael Vick out, but all signs point towards Nick Foles starting.
2. Foles played well last week, completing 16 of 25 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns. He was 2-for-3 on balls that traveled more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus. As a team, the Eagles have 30 pass plays of 20+ yards. That’s the most in the NFL. Kelly was hired for games like this. He’s got his backup QB going up against a talented defense. It’ll be fascinating to see what kind of game plan he puts together for No. 9.
3. The Bucs run a 4-3 defense, but will show multiple looks. Their No. 1 focus is stopping the run. Football Outsiders keeps a stat called Stuff Rate. It measures how often a defense stops the run at or behind the line of scrimmage. Last year, the Bucs had a 32.8 percent stuff rate. Not only was that the best mark in the league, but it was the best overall percentage by any team since Football Outsiders started tracking the stat. As a point of reference, the 2000 Ravens Super Bowl team was second at 31.1 percent.
4. The Eagles struggled to run the ball effectively last week, primarily because the Giants used a tactic called a “nut stunt” up front (All-22 here) to get by Jason Kelce and cause disruption in the backfield. But overall, the Eagles are the NFL’s top rushing team, averaging 186.6 YPG. LeSean McCoy leads the NFL with 514 rushing yards and is averaging 5.2 YPC. Tampa comes in as the third-ranked rushing defense, according to Football Outsiders. The Bucs are holding teams to 3.7 YPC (T-7th). And it all starts up front with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
“Gerald McCoy may be the best defensive [tackle] in the league,” Kelly said. “He’s explosive, dynamic, he can run. They’ve got athletic ability on the defensive line, and they’re not as big as some of the teams we’ve played, but they’re faster than teams we’ve played.”
4. Kelce was convinced earlier this week that the Bucs would try the same tactic as the Giants to stop the Eagles’ inside zone read. To combat the nut stunt, one thing the offense can do is leave the defensive tackle unblocked and run to the outside.
For example, here Kelce lets Cullen Jenkins by.
He and Todd Herremans pull around Lane Johnson.
Foles carries out his fake, and Jenkins is effectively taken out of the play.
Don’t be surprised if we see the Eagles try the same tactic against McCoy.
5. Tampa’s linebackers are Mason Foster (MLB), Dekoda Watson (SAM) and Lavonte David (WILL). David has blitzed 28 times in four games (per PFF) and leads the team with three sacks. He also is second on the team in tackles, has four passes defended and an interception. David was selected with the 58th pick in the 2012 draft, 12 spots after the Eagles took Mychal Kendricks and one spot before they took Vinny Curry. Foster has played in 36 straight games since the Bucs took him in the third round of the 2011 draft. Eagles tight ends and running backs combined for 12 catches last week. That might be a recurring theme, considering wide receivers not named DeSean Jackson have had trouble getting open. Brent Celek and Zach Ertz have combined for nine catches of 20+ yards. Ertz is averaging 21.4 yards per grab and will likely continue to see a bump in playing time.
6. Tampa’s corners are Darrelle Revis, Johnthan Banks and Leonard Johnson (nickel). Banks is tall (6-2) with long arms and was taken in the second round of April’s draft out of Mississippi State. He made a terrific leaping INT in the end zone vs. the Cardinals, but is obviously the preferred target over Revis. If the Eagles can get Jackson matched up against Banks, they’ll have an advantage. The rookie ran a 4.61 at the Combine. At safety, the Bucs signed Dashon Goldson to go along with second-year player Mark Barron.
“I think that pair of safeties is as good as we’re going to see in the league,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said earlier this week.
7. There’s been a lot of talk this week about Jackson going up against Revis. Jackson is fifth in the NFL with 525 receiving yards. He has 11 catches of 20+ yards (second to only Torrey Smith) and three touchdowns, one more than he had in 11 games last season. While Revis will certainly man up with Jackson at times, Greg Schiano has come under criticism from the likes of Warren Sapp for not getting the most out of his cornerback.
For example, in the Cardinals game, the Bucs were in Tampa-2 on this play in the third. Revis starts off opposite Larry Fitzgerald, but passes him off. The Bucs have two deep safeties, and the linebacker drops as the middle deep defender.
Fitzgerald runs a post, Revis passes him off, and he finds the soft spot in the zone in front of the safety,
The Cardinals picked up 21 yards on the play.
As Fran Duffy pointed out on PhiladelphiaEagles.com, the Bucs have had some success playing the Tampa-2. It’ll be interesting to see how they defend the Eagles. Like most teams, they’ll likely look to stop the run, take Jackson out of the game and make guys like Riley Cooper, Jason Avant and Celek beat them.
8. Cooper has started every game, but has just eight catches on 19 targets for 93 yards in five games. Of the 90 players who have been targeted at least 16 times, Football Outsiders ranks Cooper 74th. He lost some playing time to Jeff Maehl last week. Overall, the Bucs are holding opponents to 6.6 YPA (eighth), but are giving up 60.4 percent completions (16th). Tampa has allowed 13 pass plays of 20+ yards, tied for sixth-fewest.
9. The Bucs have 13 sacks (tied for 14th). No player currently on their roster ranked in the top-50 in sacks in 2012 (per FB Outsiders), but they’ve found ways to scheme up pressure. McCoy is their best pass-rushing defensive lineman. He’ll line up in a variety of spots. Clayborn can get after the QB too. David and others will blitz.
10. The Bucs will also throw some crazy stunts at the Eagles. Here, Clayborn sets up at RDE, loops behind two teammates and rushes through the B-Gap between the left guard and left center.
Communication and execution will be key for the Eagles’ offensive linemen. Lane Johnson was probably the team’s best lineman in pass protection last week, a good sign considering he struggled in that aspect through the first four games.
Extra point: The Eagles have scored touchdowns on just 41.2 percent of their red-zone trips. That ranks 30th in the NFL. Before you assume Foles will solve that problem, remember that he completed just 40.7 percent of his passes in the red zone last year. Tampa ranks second in red-zone defense, allowing TDs just 28.6 percent of the time.