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January 12, 2024

Eagles at Buccaneers: Five matchups to watch, when the Bucs have the ball

Can the Eagles slow down the Buccaneers' star receiver duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin?

Eagles NFL
011224MikeEvans Kim Klement Neitzel/USA TODAY Sports

Bucs WR Mike Evans is good.

The Philadelphia Eagles look like one of the worst teams in the NFL at the moment, after losing consecutive games to horrid teams. They limp into the playoffs having lost five of their last six games, and will face a familiar foe in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Normally, we point out five matchups to watch between the Eagles and their upcoming opponent during the regular season. But this is the playoffs, so let's do five matchups on each side of the ball. We started with the Eagles' offense vs. the Buccaneers' defense on Wednesday. Here we'll look at the Bucs' offense vs. the Eagles' defense.

1) The Eagles' cornerbacks vs. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin

Mike Evans has topped 1000 yards in each of his first 10 NFL seasons, a remarkable achievement that has required a high level of play combined with durability:

 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 79 1255 15.9 13 
TOTAL 762 11680 15.3 94 

In 2023 Evans quickly became Baker Mayfield's favorite target, catching 79 passes for 1255 yards and 13 TDs. He ranks 45th all-time in receptions, 33rd all-time in receiving yards, and 13th in receiving TDs.

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, while Jonathan Gannon nor Sean Desai are no longer the Eagles' defensive coordinators. This is where I would say that the Eagles will have to have a better plan for when Evans is in the slot than Gannon did, but I think Eagles fans would settle for the players just knowing who they're covering before each snap under Matt Patricia.

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 83 1024 12.3 
TOTAL 456 5775 12.7 32 

Like Evans, Godwin can also be deadly from the slot, and he can overpower smaller slot corners.

Evans and Godwin could be a bad matchup for the Eagles' embattled secondary, though the return of Darius Slay will help.

2) Bucs RB Rachaad White vs. the Eagles' linebackers

Under Sean Desai, the Eagles' defense was at least competent, and sometimes bad. But, like, "regular bad." Under Matt Patricia, they've been a disorganized tire fire, particularly at linebacker. Against the Giants, for example, I'm not sure who is supposed to be covering Saquon Barkley on the play below, but both Nicholas Morrow and Nolan Smith both decide way too late that it should be them, and ultimately nobody covers him:

It looks to me like Saquon's motion from the right side of the formation to the left causes a change in assignments from Morrow to Smith, as Morrow is just jogging across while pointing to Smith. And Smith tries to disguise that he is rushing the passer until the last possible second, before dropping back into coverage, and all that achieves is Barkley sprinting by him with ease. 

And on that note, if indeed Smith is at fault here, why exactly is Patricia asking an edge rusher to cover Barkley man-to-man? Anyway, who cares which player on the field screwed up? The Eagles' defense looks like it's trying to work things out in a preseason game, except they're playing against offenses that are playing like it's December or January.

Anyway, I'm getting off track here a bit. If the Eagles' linebackers struggle to cover in Tampa, the Bucs have a running back in Rachaad White who can do some damage in the passing game. White was fourth among NFL running backs in receptions (64), and third in receiving yards (549). But more impressively, he has caught 114 of his 128 targets (89.1%) in his two NFL seasons. Granted, most of those are short, easy throws, but the Bucs are efficient with it, and White is able to make defenders miss in the open field.

3) Bucs TE Cade Otton vs. the Eagles' linebackers and safeties

Otton was a Bucs fourth-round pick in 2022 who is starting to make an impact in the passing game. He has 6 receptions of 20+ yards in their last 9 games. For reference, Dallas Goedert has 6 catches for 20+ yards on the entire season.

Again, the Eagles' linebackers have generally been overmatched in coverage, and it doesn't help that they have been lost since the staff made the switch from Desai to Patricia. Also, at safety, Sydney Brown's season is over and Reed Blankenship has a groin injury. There's a decent chance the Eagles will be starting Kevin Byard and Tristin McCollum on the back end. 😬

4) The Eagles' suddenly bad run defense vs. the Bucs' always-bad rushing offense

In eight of their first nine games, the Eagles held their opponents to under 100 rushing yards. They were allowing an average of 66.7 rushing yards per game, best in the NFL. Since then, they've been one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, as they have given up at least 100 rushing yards to each of their last 8 opponents, and an average of 145.1 rushing yards allowed per game. 

Opponent Rush yards allowed 
Week 1, Patriots 79 
Week 2, Vikings 28 
Week 3, Buccaneers 41 
Week 4, Commanders 107 
Week 5, Rams 54 
Week 6, Jets 89 
Week 7, Dolphins 45 
Week 8, Commanders 84 
Week 9, Cowboys 73 
Week 11, Chiefs 168 
Week 12, Bills 173 
Week 13, 49ers 146 
Week 14, Cowboys 138 
Week 15, Seahawks 100 
Week 16, Giants 106 
Week 17, Cardinals 221 
Week 18, Giants 109 

Luckily for the Eagles, the Bucs haven't been able to run the ball in years. 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). In 2023, once again, they were the worst rushing offense in the NFL, both in yards per rushing attempt (3.4) and rushing yards per game (88.7).

Their leading rusher is White, who carried 272 times this season for 990 yards and 6 TDs. He is more of a threat as a receiver than he is as a runner.

It's probably also worth mentioning that Baker Mayfield has made some plays with his feet this season. He's not Lamar Jackson by any stretch, but he can break tackles and get gritty if the Bucs need a first down. For example:

We probably won't be seeing that on Monday night, as Mayfield is hampered by ribs and ankle injuries. (Mayfield is expected to play, but there's always an outside chance that he won't.)

5) Where might the Eagles go feastin'™️? 🍗

The Bucs' offensive line looks like this:

Tristan Wirfs Aaron Stinnie Robert Hainsey Cody Mauch Luke Goedeke 

The interior 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 LG, the Bucs' Week 1 starter was Matt Feiler, but he was ineffective and replaced in the lineup by Stinnie.

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

All three of those guys are below average starters.

#FeastinMeter™️: Wake me up when the Eagles' interior linemen look anything like they did the first quarter of the season, and when they stop dropping the only edge rusher who has been getting pressure (Haason Reddick) into coverage. 2/10 turkey legs. 🍗🍗

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