The Eagles (2-3) are hosting the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers (4-1) at the Linc on Thursday Night Football:
Here are five matchups to watch:
Bucs receivers vs. Eagles corners
The Buccaneers boast one of the best trios of receivers in the NFL with Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. It’ll be a great test for an Eagles secondary that is coming off a very good game with three interceptions. Of course, this quarterback is a little better than the last one the Eagles faced.
“They got a really good group,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. “They got a really good group. You watch the tape. They make a bunch of plays, and they each – I always thought, from a receiver standpoint, if you have 11 personnel out there and you got three guys, they all have different skill sets, and that makes it a big-time challenge because how you have to defend each guy within each coverage, what we're playing is different. And our guys have to grasp that and understand that, which we do because we have smart players.”
Brown is coming off a tremendous game against the Dolphins. He turned back the clock to have 7 catches, 124 yards and 2 touchdowns with Xavien Howard covering him most of the afternoon. Brown had 4/88/2 against Howard. As Brown was torching Howard, Darius Slay was shutting down D.J. Moore. If Slay travels with Brown in this one, it’ll be the most fun matchup of the game.
Of course, if Slay travels with Brown, that still leaves Evans and Godwin to account for. Steven Nelson brought up a good point last week that if Slay is traveling, it means he’s traveling too, with the No. 2 receiver.
But Godwin and Evans take snaps in the slot so Nelson and Maddox will have to be ready. Maddox is obviously a smaller corner at 5-9, so facing a 6-5, 230-pound Evans is a pretty tough matchup.
Tom Brady vs. Jonathan Gannon
Yeah, let’s talk about Brady. Because he’s 44 now and he’s playing like he’s a 27-year-old in his prime. Heck, he might be better now. He leads the NFL in passing yards and is second in touchdowns. He does have a minor thumb injury, which is something to watch. But if he’s healthy, he’s a handful.
And it’s up to Gannon to figure out how to attack him. With a player like Brady, you’re not going to give him something he hasn’t seen before and you’re not going to fluster him either. The Eagles are going to need their front four — Tampa coach Bruce Arians said the Eagles’ front four is the best they’ve faced this year — to get home. That’s their only choice.
Because if Gannon starts calling more blitzes in this game (I doubt he would anyway), Brady is going to pick them apart.
Leonard Fournette vs. Eagles linebackers
There’s so much talk about this Bucs passing attack — and rightfully so — but the former first-round running back is off to a pretty good start. In five games, he has 56 carries for 251 yards, good for an average of 4.5 yards per attempt. It’s not like he’s a Pro Bowler, but if the Eagles are going to play soft zone coverages to minimize the passing attack, they need to make sure they take down Fournette when he runs.
The Eagles’ top two linebackers — Alex Singleton and Eric Wilson — have each missed six tackles this season, according to ProFootballFocus. Meanwhile, Fournette has five broken tackles and is averaging one every 11.2 rushing attempts. The Eagles need to bring him down.
Eagles tackles vs. Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul
If the Eagles are without Lane Johnson for a third straight week, they’ll start Andre Dillard at left tackle and Jordan Mailata at right. Mailata came back from an MCL sprain last week and played alright aside from giving up back-to-back sacks to Haason Reddick.
On the other side, Dillard has really settled back into the left tackle role. According to PFF, he had the best pass blocking grade among the Eagles’ OL in Week 5. He played 40 pass blocking snaps and gave up just one hurry. He hasn’t given up a sack or a QB hit in his three starts this season.
But Barrett and JPP are two pretty good players. Last week, Barrett played most of his snaps on the defensive right but that was a departure from their norm. So we’ll see how the Bucs attack this week. Through five weeks, he has 3 1/2 sacks. He had 8 last year and a league-high 19 1/2 in 2019. Meanwhile, JPP missed a couple games but returned last week. He still doesn’t have a sack and is playing through a nasty finger injury. But he’s still a good player.
Eagles interior vs. Vita Vea
The Eagles finished last week’s game with Nate Herbig at left guard but Landon Dickerson (ankle) is expected to play through that injury on Thursday night. And Vea will be waiting.
As the nose tackle in Todd Bowles’ defense, Vea doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. But he’s an absolute force in the middle of that defense. At 6-4, 347 pounds, Vea absolutely moves offensive linemen out of the way and in this game he’ll be facing two young guards and a very good but undersized center.
“Usually, most guys in the NFL, they’re either really big and slow or they’re really small and fast,” Kelce said. “The guys that are usually very good players are both of those. I think that he’s not only a monstrous human being, he’s also explosive, he’s quick, you can tell he’s smart, you can tell he understands angles and what he’s doing out there, he’s a good athlete. That what makes him a good football player.”
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