Tampa is much better equipped to beat Philadelphia than they were last season in the playoffs. True, I thought the Bucs would win that game, but the loss exposed a lot of this squads problems. There's a lot more reasons why the Bucs are ready to win as opposed to last season. First of all, there was no pressure on the Eagles last season and they played the playoff game that way. This year, although there's plenty of pressure on Dungy and his team, there will be some tightness with this Philly squad because of heightened expectations. (sound familiar?) Second of all, the Eagles running game is a disaster, worse than last year and that's when they didn't have Duce Staley. Last but not least, even though people still don't believe it, Brad Johnson is the guy you want in a game like this not Shaun King, who was in over his head last year in the Wild Card game.
With all that being said, it's still virtually a tossup and if the Bucs show up as the traditional cold weather Bucs, it'll be one and done again. So, for your reading pleasure (in or out of the bathroom) here are the 5 absolute key matchups that will decide the playoff contest.
1. Eagles DE Hugh Douglas vs Kenyatta Walker: I have no idea how it happened and I'm not sure I care, but the Bucs o-line has played tremendous football the last two games. Douglas is a disrupter who usually is at his best in the fourth quarter. Not a bull rusher, he prefers technique. With DT Hollis Thomas out, the other Eagle end Brandon Whiting will likely slide over and play tackle. This should allow the entire Tampa offensive line to concentrate on helping Walker out and achieve the main goal of keeping Brad Johnson in one piece.
2. Eagles TE Chad Lewis vs Derrick Brooks: This isn't a matchup per se, but Lewis was the focal point of the Eagles passing game in their NFC East clinching win over the Giants. He's got good hands and is able to get himself open over the middle of the field. A lot of teams put a spy on Donovan Mcnabb, which in the Bucs case could be John Lynch. With Mcnabb running less and less these days, Dungy should worry less about spying and more on Chad Lewis.
3. Eagles CB's Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent vs Keyshawn Johnson: Philly's corner duo made Keyshawn disappear in the playoffs last year. Logic would dictate that Taylor would get the assignment because his size is ideal to play Johnson. Because both guys are so good, they may flip flop just by what side Keyshawn lines up on. In addition, the Eagles blitz like crazy and a lot of that comes from Taylor, Vincent and even safety Brian Dawkins.
4. Eagles LB Jeremiah Trotter vs Mike Alstott and Jameel Cook: It's no secret that the Bucs running game has improved with the insertion of Cook as a blocking back. Trotter is the Eagles version of Brooks. All over the field, wreaking havoc and blowing up running plays. He's also a very sure tackler meaning Cook must get to him before he gets to Alstott. With the aforementioned absence of Hollis Thomas, Philly looks vulnerable to running between the tackles.
5. The Bucs mental state of mind vs the weather: For those of you that were hoping for an extension of the balmy northeast December that took place - forget it. It'll be cold and raw and I have a weird feeling the game will be at 4 p.m. once again. On the other hand, most players will tell you that wind is the bigger issue with them not just cold. Veterans Stadium isn't nearly as windy as Giants Stadium, Soldier Field or Lambeau Field and the Bucs simply can't let it bother them. Philadelphia was 4-4 this year at home and it won't take much, maybe a 10-0 Tampa lead, for the fans to turn on the Eagles like pit bulls.
It looks nice on paper but until we know the Bucs state of mind, we won't know which team will show up. Through all the trials and tribulations of this year, it's actually worked out quite well from a playoff perspective. Just as a gut feeling, you have to figure that if the Bucs can win this game in Philly, that they could seriously get to the Super Bowl. Once and for all, I guess will see what the core of this Buccaneer team is all about. You'd like to have more of a gauge, more predictability, but not with this squad. Not this year, not any year.
You can listen to Sandy Penner on 620 WDAE Monday through Friday, 6:00-8:00 AM. If you're not in the Tampa Bay area, you can listen to Penner live by logging onto 620WDAE.com.
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