Three-And-Out: Eagles-Bucs Predictions
PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
McManus: DeMarco Murray
Murray’s level of production was trending upward before a setback against the Dolphins. Averaging 85 yards and 4.5 yards per carry over his last four games, those numbers dipped (61 yards, 2.8 avg.) versus Miami due in part to the effectiveness of Ndamukong Suh and company against the Eagles’ offensive front.
It could be tough sledding once again, as Tampa — led by standout defensive tackle Gerald McCoy — boasts the third-best run defense in the league in yards per attempt (3.6). That’s not great news for an Eagles running attack that will be without Ryan Mathews, who is sidelined with a concussion.
“We’ve got other guys that can step up and step in,” said Murray. “You’ve got Kenjon [Barner] who has been a really good player in this league and obviously [Darren] Sproles, a dynamic player. I’m sure guys will step up.”
Murray, though, will have to carry the load, particularly while the offense breaks in a new starting quarterback. He and Mark Sanchez had some issues getting synched up at the mesh point last Sunday on zone read looks, but Murray believes that problem has since been solved.
“Obviously not working with each other throughout the course of the year and working with Sam [Bradford] not necessarily reading it, and then Mark coming in more of a runner. We got it fixed this week so shouldn’t be a problem going forward,” he said.
“I think it just gives us another variable in the run game, having the defense have to respect the pull, so I think that’s going to help us out in the run game.”
Paunil: Mark Sanchez
Well, this isn’t a tough choice. The Eagles will have a new starter at the most important position on the field, and his performance will (obviously) play a huge role in whether they win.
Sanchez had his ups and downs against the Dolphins last Sunday, and his head coach talked about his performance extensively this week.
“Sanchez graded out well,” Chip Kelly said. “I mean, obviously the interception was a big down for him, but I think he made some other plays. The throw he made to Zach Ertz on the big play on the over route where he avoided the rush [and] stepped up in the pocket was a good play.
“We ran a naked once with a defensive end, didn’t bite; he came underneath and made a real good pass to [Brent] Celek. He did a good job on the sideline throw to DeMarco when he escaped the pocket and then took it down the sideline. So I thought there were some good plays in there, but obviously one that he’d like back.”
Sanchez did have negative plays other than the interception, including handoffs that disrupted Murray’s timing and miscommunications with receivers. On the other hand, as Murray eluded to, Sanchez is more of a threat to run the ball.
Some of his teammates said the offense moves faster with Sanchez in at quarterback, but others, like Jason Kelce, added that success on early downs is what increases their tempo the most. Regardless, Sanchez should have plenty of opportunities to make plays against Tampa Bay, as they rank third-to-last in the NFL in opponent passer rating.
OVER/UNDER: Two total touchdowns for Jameis Winston — Whaddya got?
McManus: I’ll go under.
Winston’s numbers aren’t spectacular: he’s completed 57.5 percent of his throws with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions to this point. He had a pair of picks against Dallas last week but engineered a game-winning drive late, which he capped with a one-yard TD run with under a minute remaining. He has a rushing touchdown in each of his last three games, and according to Connor Barwin, is maturing as a quarterback.
“I wouldn’t put all rookie quarterbacks in the same box,” said Barwin. “He’s a number one pick that is growing quickly and playing better and better every week. I don’t really view him as your typical rookie quarterback.”
While Winston’s game certainly has to be respected, I’ll say Billy Davis‘ defense holds him in check Sunday.
Paunil: I agree.
Winston scores slightly more than 1.5 total touchdowns per game, and the Eagles rank in the top-10 in average points allowed. Winston is better — and smarter — than your average rookie quarterback, but I expect the defense to confuse him and force multiple turnovers.
Philadelphia ranks second in the league in takeaways, while Tampa Bay is tied for the ninth-most giveaways. As the season has progressed and defenders have grown more comfortable with each other, Davis has had more freedom to disguise his calls and get creative.
That applies to blitzes and the pass rush as well, which is partially why the Eagles are top-5 in the NFL in forced fumbles.
McManus: Eagles 27, Bucs 20
I’m expecting the offense to get a little jolt with Sanchez at quarterback. He has familiarity with the system, a rapport with Jordan Matthews and Ertz and runs the offense at a pace that could knock the Bucs off-balance. That’s not to say that he’s a better long-term option at quarterback, but Sanchez can be effective in bursts.
I believe Davis will have some looks ready to disorient the young QB, and think the defense gets back to forcing turnovers in this one.
Sure, the offensive line (which may or may not have Jason Peters) could give out, Sanchez might implode and Tampa could win this game. The Eagles are a short-handed, inconsistent team and I’m expecting an up-and-down performance, but believe the high times will outweigh the low ones this week.
Paunil: Eagles 24, Bucs 21
I’m having the type of up-and-down year you’d expect from a rookie, T-Mac. After picking the first four games wrong, I got the next four right, but then came up short last week and fell back below .500. Anyway, I expect both myself and the Eagles to get back to 5-5 tomorrow.
The Buccaneers rank in the bottom third of the league in the most important category on both sides of the ball: points per game. They are also 29th in offensive turnovers per drive, giving the ball away more than 16 percent of the time.
As for the Eagles offense, I expect their passing attack to help open up the run game. Sanchez will be solid, and that will be enough for them to win the game.