5 matchups to watch as Eagles travel south to face Buccaneers

5 matchups to watch as Eagles travel south to face Buccaneers

The Eagles got off to a winning start in Week 1, escaping from the opener with an 18-12 victory over the Falcons. 

A few days later, the Bucs won a 48-40 shootout over Drew Brees and the Saints in New Orleans. 

This game in Tampa Bay will be one of just two matchups between 1-0 teams in the NFC this weekend. The other is Packers-Vikings. 

Here are five matchups to watch: 

Mike Evans vs. Ronald Darby 

It remains to be seen whether DeSean Jackson (concussion) will play. A matchup between Jackson and Darby would be fun to watch. But this one is even more interesting. Darby had a really good game in the opener and I’m interested to see how he performs this season with a full offseason in this defense. 

Evans, meanwhile, is the model of consistency in the NFL. He’s been in the league for four seasons and has at least 1,000 yards in each of them. He’s one of just three players in NFL history — A.J. Green and Randy Moss are the others — to do that. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, he’s a much different receiver than the speedy Jackson. He’s more of a big catch-radius type of guy, but also has speed. He caught seven passes for 147 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. The Bucs have several weapons to watch, but Evans tops the list. 

Nick Foles vs. banged-up corners

Brees didn’t waste any time targeting rookie Carlton Davis when he entered last week’s game. Expect Foles to have some real chances to get the ball down the field. Vernon Hargreaves is on IR and Brent Grimes is 35 and has a groin injury. Foles is going to have a chance to do some damage if he can get into a rhythm. 

Brandon Brooks vs. Gerald McCoy

Lining up next to former Eagle Beau Allen is perennial Pro Bowler McCoy. McCoy lines up most often at LDT, which means he’ll be facing Brooks, who is a Pro Bowler too. This should be a fun matchup to watch. 

The Bucs’ defense starts with McCoy. They have other good players, but he’s sort of like their Fletcher Cox. Super talented, a game-wrecker and probably doesn’t get enough credit. If Brooks can handle McCoy without too much help from Jason Kelce, it would be a huge win for the Eagles. 

Bucs TEs vs. Malcolm Jenkins 

In addition to a talented trio of receivers, the Bucs also have two tight ends who play a lot in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Brate had 48 catches last season and Howard had 26 as a rookie. The Bucs had 20 plays with at least two tight ends on the field in Week 1.

The good news for the Eagles is that they’ve been pretty hard on tight ends recently. They gave up just three catches for 24 yards in the opener to Falcons TEs. And they gave up an average of 46 yards per game to tight ends last season. It really starts with Jenkins, who likes to play near the line of scrimmage. 

Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Eagles' DL 

Did you guys know Fitzpatrick went to Harvard? You’re going to hear about that a lot this weekend. 

Yes, Fitzpatrick is smart. It’s how he’s stayed in the league for 14 seasons. He’s also coming off a game in which he accounted for five touchdowns and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. One of the most overlooked parts of Fitz’s game is his ability to use his legs. He’s not Mike Vick, but he will run at times. At the very least, he’s really good at buying time in the pocket. If the Eagles get to him, they need to get him down. 

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40-year-old Josh McCown was getting ready to play WR on Monday night

40-year-old Josh McCown was getting ready to play WR on Monday night

The Eagles entered Monday night’s game with just three healthy wide receivers and after Alshon Jeffery and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside got hurt, they were down to just one. 

So who would have been the next guy in? 

Well, 40-year-old quarterback Josh McCown was getting ready. 

“I was ready to go,” McCown told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark. “We had the helmet ready to go. The equipment guys were all over it. Had the radio-less helmet because you can’t have two green dots on the field at the same time.” 

McCown didn’t end up playing in Monday’s 23-17 overtime win. The Eagles got by with what they had, which meant playing third tight end Josh Perkins in several different spots. 

But the oldest player on the roster was ready. 

“We were ready to roll,” he said. “Shoot, I’d get in there and go. Obviously, as a quarterback, you know the offense. I guess it was like 12 years ago in Foxboro I had to go in and do it.”

That game McCown was talking about was on Dec. 3, 2006. That was the last time he caught a pass in an NFL game. 

In that game, McCown caught two passes for 15 yards from Lions quarterback Jon Kitna in a 28-21 loss to the Patriots. He also caught a 31-yard pass but it was brought back on an offensive pass interference call that he claimed was “a little suspect.” 

“Hopefully, I don’t get retroactively fined,” McCown said late Monday night, 13 years after the call. 

Is there a statute of limitations on that? 

Anyway, the fact that a 40-year-old McCown was even preparing to enter a game as a receiver is telling. First, about the injuries at that position. And, second, about the poor decision to go into a game with just three healthy receivers. 

Doug Pederson said the Eagles were hoping to have Nelson Agholor for the game, but he came in questionable and was inactive. 

At least they had McCown. 

“I’m not quite the option that J.J. (Arcega-Whiteside) is or Greg (Ward), obviously, but again, we were kind of up against it a little bit,” McCown said. “Just being able to have a contingency plan was the main thing. I was ready to roll.”

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Carson Wentz rallies Eagles past Giants throwing to ... who???

Carson Wentz rallies Eagles past Giants throwing to ... who???

It was Carson Wentz’s best stretch of football this year and it occurred under some of the most unusual circumstances you can imagine.

Tight ends playing receiver. Slot receivers playing outside. Practice squad guys in key roles.

A week after the Eagles blew a 14-point second-half lead to one two-win team, they rallied back from a 14-point second-half deficit against another two-win team.

And Wentz, after another slow start, finally looked like his old self.

Wentz not only rallied the Eagles back after they trailed by 14 points with two minutes left in the third quarter, he did it while throwing to Boston Scott, Greg Ward, Josh Perkins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside – none of whom were even playing a month ago – as well as Zach Ertz.

It is not easy,” Ertz said. “As a quarterback, chemistry, trust and timing is the No. 1 thing, and he’s putting a lot of trust in guys that he does not have a lot of reps with, and I think that speaks volumes of him. Being able to go out there, and it doesn’t really matter who is out there, NFC East opponent, down 17-3, and play his best football in that second half all year? I am extremely proud of him tonight with the way he led us.

Wentz threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ critical 23-17 overtime win over the Giants at the Linc.

But look at his numbers on the Eagles’ five drives during their late comeback: 21-for-28 for 226 yards with two TD passes to Ertz, including the game-winner in overtime.

You go into the game with three receivers and now you’ve got Greg Ward usually in the slot and he’s out there playing (outside)," Wentz said. "You’ve got guys moving around. For me, I’ve got no choice but to trust these guys. Some of these routes I’ve never even repped before in those situations, but they stepped up and made plays. They did a great job.

This was vintage Wentz. But it couldn’t have happened without guys making plays around him.

And it's been a while since we've seen that.

With Nelson Agholor out, Alshon Jeffery leaving with an early injury and Mack Hollins and Jordan Matthews long gone, Wentz had to rally the Eagles back from 17-3 with guys he’s barely practiced with.

With a shot at the playoffs at stake.

Just keep believing,” Wentz said. “Keep believing and it’s time to make a decision how this is going to define us. Obviously, we knew it was not our first half. That was a rough one and that was an ugly one. We just said, ‘Keep believing and keep staying together.’ Defense was going to take care of their piece, which they did. And we were able to do enough offensively to get this win.

Wentz has had his issues this year, and he had his issues in the first half Monday night.

But it’s amazing how much better he looks when guys are actually catching footballs for him.

This was the first time the Eagles have come back from a 14-point halftime deficit since the 2014 opener, when they beat the Jaguars 34-17 after trailing 17-0.

Before that? Giants in 2010 at the Meadowlands. You might remember a DeSean Jackson punt return as time expired?

In all, the Eagles were 2-45 in their last 47 games when they trailed by at least 14 points at halftime.

Wentz was asked how big it was for him to win his first overtime game and engineer a rally from 14 down at halftime for the first time in his career.

This is huge for this whole team,” he said. “To come in after halftime, to be where we were, and obviously knowing that our backs were against the wall, season on the line-type of thing, for guys to just stay tough and stay together late in the game … and get the win and drive down to score right away? It’s huge for me personally and for this entire team.

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