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September 18, 2023

Eagles at Buccaneers: Five matchups to watch

Ahead of the Eagles and Buccaneers' Week 3 Monday Night Football affair, here are five matchups to zone in on.

Eagles NFL
091823JalenHurts Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Hurts is 0-2 in his career against the Buccaneers.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a team that has had an answer for the Philadelphia Eagles in recent years, as they have won four straight in this rivalry.

  1. Jan. 16, 2022: The Bucs smashed the Eagles in the wildcard round of the playoffs.
  2. Oct. 14, 2021: Tom Brady was one of many quarterbacks to complete over 80 percent of his passes against Jonathan Gannon's defense.
  3. Sept. 16, 2018: Ryan Fitzpatrick and DeSean Jackson went off in an extremely hot Week 2 game in Tampa.
  4. Nov. 22, 2015: Jameis Winston threw for five TDs in a game that was the beginning of the end for Chip Kelly in Philadelphia.

The 2023 Bucs don't exactly have a loaded roster, but they have gotten out to a 2-0 start to their season, and should be a formidable opponent. Here are our five matchups to watch.

1) The Eagles' cornerbacks vs. the Buccaneers' wide receivers

Mike Evans has topped 1000 yards in each of his first nine NFL seasons:

 Mike EvansRec Yards YPC TD 
2014 68 1051 15.5 12 
2015 74 1206 16.3 
2016 96 1321 13.8 12 
2017 71 1001 14.1 
2018 86 1524 17.7 
2019 67 1157 17.3 
2020 70 1006 14.4 13 
2021 74 1035 14.0 14 
2022 77 1124 14.6 
2023 12 237 19.8 
TOTAL 695 10662 15.3 83 

As you can see above, so far in 2023 Evans has quickly become Baker Mayfield's favorite target catching 12 passes for 237 yards and 2 TDs. He has made a bunch of big plays already this season. Like this:

And this: 

And this:

He bullies smaller corners, and he's a contested catch beast deep down the field.

The Bucs found success against the Eagles in their wildcard round playoff game a couple seasons ago when they put Evans in the slot against Avonte Maddox, an obvious size mismatch. 

Of course, Byron Leftwich is no longer the Bucs' offensive coordinator, and Jonathan Gannon is no longer the Eagles' defensive coordinator. Still, Sean Desai will have to have a better plan for when Evans is in the slot than Gannon did.

The other dangerous Bucs receiver is Chris Godwin, a physical dirty work guy who also puts up numbers: 

 Chris GodwinRec Yards YPC TD 
2017 34 525 15.4 
2018 59 842 14.3 
2019 86 1333 15.5 
2020 65 840 12.9 
2021 98 1103 11.3 
2022 104 1023 9.8 
2023 10 109 10.9 
TOTAL 456 5775 12.7 32 

Godwin can also be deadly from the slot, where the Eagles will have to replace Maddox, whose season is over. My guess? Assuming James Bradberry returns from his concussion Week 3, he will start opposite Darius Slay, and when the Eagles go nickel Bradberry will slide inside and Josh Jobe will play outside. That's the setup that probably makes the most sense against a team with two physically imposing receivers.

2) The Eagles' run defense vs. the Bucs' rushing offense

Through two games the Bucs are averaging 2.9 yards per rushing attempt. In 2022, they were the worst rushing offense in the NFL, both in yards per rushing attempt (3.4) and rushing yards per game (76.9).

The Eagles are allowing just 3.4 yards per rushing attempt in two games this season.

• In Week 1 against the Patriots, the Eagles shut down the Pats' rushing offense and got them to more or less give up on the run, even though the Pats pretty clearly wanted to be run-heavy.

• In Week 2 against the Vikings, Minnesota abandoned the run from the coin toss, as they only had 9 rushing attempts as a team on the day. There's a decent chance the Bucs follow suit.

Defensively, making teams one dimensional is a great thing. Of course, the Patriots and Vikings both torched the Eagles' back seven through the air in those games once they surrendered their rushing attacks.

Still, the Bucs don't pose much of a threat on the ground.

3) Where might the Eagles go feastin'? 🍗

The Bucs' offensive line looks like this:

Tristan Wirfs Matt Feiler Robert Hainsey Cody Mauch Luke Goedeke 

The right side of the Bucs' line is the concern area.

• At C, Ryan Jensen was placed on IR in late August with a knee injury that has given him problems for years. His career might be over. He was replaced in the lineup by Hainsey.

• At RG, the Bucs are starting Mauch, a second-round rookie from North Dakota State.

• At RT, there's Goedeke, a second-round pick in 2022 who struggled as a rookie when he mostly played at LG.

Haason Reddick is playing with an injured thumb, which has no doubt limited his effectiveness on some of his pass rush moves. Monday night would be a good opportunity for a breakout game. And then of course Jalen Carter, Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis, and Milton Williams have all played great ball so far on the interior.

The matchup I'm most looking forward to is Josh Sweat vs. one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL in Wirfs. Sweat has gotten out to a fast start and is quietly becoming a star player. It'll be interesting to see what he can do against a beast.

#FeastinMeter: 5/10 turkey legs 🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗

4) The Eagles' rushing offense vs. the Buccaneers' run defense

Todd Bowles and the Bucs have always hung their hat on stopping the run. Their run defense ranks since Bowles became the defensive coordinator in 2019:

• 2019: 1
• 2020: 1
• 2021: 3
• 2022: 15

2022 was a down year for the Bucs, but they are currently second in rushing yards allowed per game, behind only the Eagles.

From 2021-2022, the Eagles gained 5224 rushing yards, or an average of 153.6 rushing yards per game, most in the NFL. Through two games in 2023, they're averaging 178.0 yards per game. So, you know, strength on strength.

If the Bucs are able to slow the Eagles' ground game, than the onus will be on Jalen Hurts and the not-yet-clicking Eagles passing attack to find their way.

5) Bowles vs. Jalen Hurts

"Offensively, I'm happy that we did better this week," said Jason Kelce after the Eagles' Week 2 win over the Vikings. "We adjusted better in-game, and I think that we're going to continue to grow. Teams are going to keep doing this. They're going to keep throwing out chaotic things and trying to eliminate the big play. We were one of the most explosive offenses in the league last year. We'll have to find ways. This is going to be the name of the game this season. We're not going to see vanilla Cover-1. It's just not going to happen. It's going to be chaos."

Brian Flores mixed heavy blitzing looks with heavy coverage looks against Hurts and the Eagles Week 2, and Bill Belichick frustrated the Eagles' passing game with a variety of coverages as well. I thought Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz put the Eagles' early-season passing game frustrations into context well:

[Nick] Sirianni and his staff built a scheme that maximized Hurts and his abilities. Defenses spent all offseason studying that and coming up with ways to handle the Eagles. That’s a huge compliment. Nobody is spending an offseason figuring out how to shut down Daniel Jones. Defenses were genuinely worried about Hurts. He seemed to have an answer for everything. Coaches figured out they had to come up with new and creative ideas.

Bowles has come up with good game plans for Hurts in the past. In the Eagles-Bucs playoff game during the 2021 season, for example, Bowles recognized Hurts' extreme tendency to throw to the right side of the field, so he took away Hurts' first look to that side of the field on the back end while the Bucs' pass rush made sure that if Hurts escaped the pocket, he had to do so to his left.

Hurts was a much different quarterback then, so Bowles will have to come up with a new plan, and it will be interesting to see what kind of "chaos" he chooses.  

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