Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Bucs’ offense.
1. As always, we start with what’s important: draft positioning. If the season ended today, the Eagles would have the fourth overall pick. The teams ahead of them are the Raiders, Jaguars and Chiefs. Oakland already lost Thursday night and is 3-10 going into the final three. Kansas City is at Cleveland, and Jacksonville hosts the Jets. Those are the two early games to keep an eye on (as you chat with us during Eagles-Bucs, of course). According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have an 8.6 percent chance at getting the top pick and a 48 percent chance of landing a top-three selection.
2. The Bucs enter Sunday’s game fourth in the NFL, averaging 27.8 points per game. Football Outsiders has them 10th in overall offense – 11th in passing and eighth in rushing. Tampa is coming off back-to-back losses to the Falcons and Broncos. The Eagles, meanwhile, have lost eight in a row and are coming off a 38-33 loss to the Cowboys. They are 26th in scoring defense, allowing 26.7 points per game. Football Outsiders has the Eagles ranked 25th defensively – 31st against the pass and eighth against the run. According to their numbers, only the Raiders have been worse against the pass this season.
3. Tampa’s offense starts with rookie running back Doug Martin, who is third in the NFL with 1,106 yards. Only Adrian Peterson (17) and C.J. Spiller (11) have more runs of 20+ yards than Martin (9). According to Pro Football Focus, Martin has broken 47 tackles, tied with Peterson for most in the league. Only Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch have carried the ball more than him (236 attempts). Martin’s coming off a pair of sub-par outings against the Falcons and Broncos, where he averaged just 2.7 yards per carry on 39 attempts. Opponents are averaging 4.1 yards per carry (13th) against the Eagles.
4. Most of Martin’s runs (67.4 percent) have come out of two-back sets, according to STATS, Inc. He’s averaged 5.6 yards per carry on those attempts. That means the Eagles will be in their base personnel for much of the game. DeMeco Ryans has shown up every week, but he didn’t play particularly well against the Cowboys. Akeem Jordan played poorly. And Mychal Kendricks was up-and-down. The Eagles will be without Mike Patterson (illness). Asked if the defense will still rotate defensive linemen, coordinator Todd Bowles said, “They’ll rotate. You still have to let Coach [Tommy] Brasher get comfortable with the guys and then we kind of react and go from there as he gets more comfortable with them at the end of the week, seeing what they can and can’t do from his own eyes. I’d like to give him a fresh perspective on that.”
5. Josh Freeman ranks 31st in the NFL, completing just 55.9 percent of his passes. But he’s in luck because opponents are completing 76.3 percent of their passes against the Eagles since Bowles took over. Freeman’s averaging 7.74 yards per attempt (sixth). He’s tossed 23 touchdowns (sixth) and just eight interceptions. In the last six games, the Eagles have given up 16 touchdown passes and come up with no interceptions. On the season, opponents are completing 62.2 percent of their passes against the Eagles (17th) and averaging 7.8 yards per attempt (26th). Only four defenses have allowed more touchdown passes than the Birds (23).
6. Vincent Jackson is one of the league’s premier vertical threats. He’s got 50 catches for 1,014 yards in his first season with Tampa and is averaging 20.3 yards per reception, which is tops in the NFL. Only Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas and Reggie Wayne have more catches of 20+ yards than Jackson (19). While the Bucs like to run the ball, they’ll take plenty of shots downfield. According to Pro Football Focus, 15.9 percent of Freeman’s attempts have traveled 20 yards or more downfield. That is third in the league, behind only Joe Flacco and Andrew Luck. Eagles safeties Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen have played poorly all season. Coleman’s out with a chest injury, and Colt Anderson will get the start. The Eagles will try to avoid complete breakdowns in the secondary for the first time in weeks.
7. Third-year receiver Mike Williams has also been productive with 43 catches for 718 yards (16.7 yards per reception) and six touchdowns. As for the Eagles, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seems to be getting worse every week.
“As I look at film just from a personal standpoint, in my head I have a whole lot of wows,” he told Tim last week. “Like, ‘Wow, what are you doing?’ At some point, I think as the season keeps going bad, bad, you try to fight so hard and don’t want to do wrong until you end up just doing wrong and you don’t allow yourself to just go out and be [yourself].”
Not only is Rodgers-Cromartie giving up too many big plays, but he continues to consistently shy away from contact. And according to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers-Cromartie leads all cornerbacks with 11 penalties.
8. Up front, left tackle Donald Penn has started every game for Tampa since the start of the 2008 season, and he made the Pro Bowl in 2010. He’ll go up against Trent Cole, who was not a factor last week against the Cowboys and has just two sacks on the season. Vinny Curry played just 19 snaps last week. That number needs to increase. Tampa is without All-Pro guard Carl Nicks. The Eagles’ pass-rush was non-existent in the second half of last week’s loss to the Cowboys. Fletcher Cox, Curry, Phillip Hunt, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, Darryl Tapp and Cedric Thornton combined for no sacks and no hurries. Brandon Graham had 1.5 sacks, four hurries and eight tackles – the most by any Eagles defensive end in a single game all season. Freeman has been sacked just 17 times all season.
9. The Eagles have just 10 takeaways through 12 games. That’s the second-fewest total in the league, ahead of only the Colts. The Bucs, meanwhile, have just 12 giveaways. In the NFC, only the Redskins have fewer. Overall, the Eagles are minus-18 in turnover differential. Only the Chiefs (-21) are worse.
10. Leftovers: According to Football Outsiders, opponents are starting drives at the 30.28 yard line against the Eagles, the second-worst mark in the league. …The Eagles are sixth in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score touchdowns 45 percent of the time. The Bucs are the second-best red-zone offense in the league, scoring touchdowns 66.7 percent of the time. …Tampa is converting on 34 percent of its third-down chances (26th). The Eagles are 21st in third-down defense, allowing conversions 39.7 percent of the time.
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