WHERE: Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
SPREAD: Eagles by 3.5
WHERE THE EAGLES STAND:: 11-5 Record. The Eagles have won the NFC East Division title and will be the No. 3 seeded team in the NFC playoffs.
HEAD COACH: Andy Reid (2-1 vs. Bucs head coach Tony Dungy).
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Ron Dowhower
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jim Johnson
SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Dave Toub
MATCHUP TO WATCH:. EAGLES DE HUGH DOUGLAS vs. BUCCANEERS LT KENYATTA WALKER: Douglas raised a lot of havoc in last year's playoff meeting between the Bucs and Eagles by recording two sacks. Douglas' first sack caused QB Shaun King to fumble and set Philadelphia's offense up in scoring range. The sack and fumble changed the momentum of the game and things went downhill for the Pewter Pirates from that point on. While Walker and Douglas did not face each other last Sunday night, Walker's play has improved as of late. Douglas tore apart ex-Bucs LT George Hegamin in the playoff game last year, and one would think he could do some damage against Walker. Douglas has recorded 9.5 sacks this season, but Tampa Bay's starting offensive line has not allowed a sack in two games (not counting last Sunday's Philly game).
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL:
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 26th(T) RUSHING: 30th PASSING: 15th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 5th RUSHING: 12th PASSING: 5th
HOW THE EAGLES RANK IN THE NFL:
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 17th RUSHING: 14th PASSING:20th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 7th RUSHING: 18th PASSING: 2nd
TURNOVERS KEY: Tampa Bay is first in the NFC in turnover ratio. The Pewter Pirates have a plus-17 turnover ratio and their defense has come up with 26 interceptions this season. Philadelphia thrives off of turnovers as well. The Eagles have a plus-nine turnover ratio. The Eagles have recovered whopping 28 fumbles and 13 interceptions. Winning the turnover battle will be a necessity in order for Tampa Bay to escape Philadelphia with a win.
WATCH THE BLITZ: The Philadelphia Eagles play a traditional 4-3 defense, but their linebackers lead the team in tackles. Eagles MLB Jeremiah Trotter leads the team in tackles and has recorded 3.5 tackles and two interceptions. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is known to unmercifully blitz his linebackers, and Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen has been known to struggle in terms of adjusting to teams who can successfully blitz.
BEWARE OF McNABB: Eagles QB Donovan McNabb has attempted to become a better pocket passes this season, and he's had mixed results. McNabb has only completed 57 percent of his passes this season, but he has thrown for over 3,000 yards, 25 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. McNabb can beat teams with his arm and his legs. McNabb has rushed for over 400 yards and is averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Eagles offensive coordinator Ron Dowhower has designed running plays implemented in Philadelphia's offense, and Tampa Bay's defense will have to contain him in order to stop Philly's offense.
TAMPA BAY'S DEFENSE CAN'T AFFORD TO GET THRASHED Philadelphia Eagles WR James Thrash has been McNabb's No. 1 target in the passing game this season. Thrash has hauled in 63 passes for 833 yards and eight touchdowns. Bucs Pro Bowl CB Ronde Barber will see plenty of time covering Thrash, and he will try to not only take Thrash out of the game, but Barber will also try to add to his interception total (10) .
THE DUCE IS LOOSE Philadelphia RB Duce Staley didn't put up the best rushing totals this season, but he's still a very dangerous weapon on offense. Staley rushed for over 600 yards, averaged 3.6 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns on the ground. In the Eagles offense, Staley plays a role similar to the one RB Warrick Dunn plays in Tampa Bay's offensive scheme. Staley has hauled in 63 receptions for 626 yards and has scored two touchdowns. Bucs ROLB Derrick Brooks and LOLB Shelton Quarles will have to keep a close eye on Staley in both the running and passing game.
BUCS SOUND OFF ON THEIR UPCOMING OPPONENT
Bucs head coach Tony Dungy on Philadelphia's offense: "They have a very versatile offense. Duce Staley wasn't playing last year when we played them James Thrash, has come on. Freddie Mitchell, they've got some different receivers now. They've got a lot of weapons. Donavan McNabb, I think it the guys that makes a go when he's on his game. He makes plays and makes things happen. They are very tough to defend because they spread the ball around."
Dungy on stopping Pro Bowl DE Hugh Douglas "Hugh Douglas is a great player. They've got a lot of good players on their defense. They probably play as well, as anyone we've played all year, in terms of keeping people out of the endzone, and not letting you move the football. They don't give up a lot of points, so you know you've got to earn everything when you get chances you have to take advantage of it. Hugh is a guy that we have to be aware of. We have to make sure we bump him with a tight end with the backs, when we're over there. We have to try not to let him just have a good feeling that it's going to be loose, free and easy."
Dungy on how weather conditions might affect Saturday's game "You know you're going to have to work with the win. That's the biggest factor, in which way the wind is blowing and how it affects the game. Other than that I don't it will really matter. Philadelphia is a team that we have to defend, a team that we have to move the ball on. The weather conditions can make it tougher, but it'll be the same for both teams."
Dungy on Bucs K Martin Gramatica's hamstring "Martin will be fine. He's healthy. He's kick well the last couple of days, and we anticipate him not having any problems."
Bucs QB Brad Johnson on Philadelphia's defense "They have a very good defense. It's evident with what they've done the last couple of years, and especially this year. They have a secondary that's played together for five or six years, and they really adjust with each other very well, and they get a lot of pressure from their front guys, and especially Hugh Douglas. They bring a lot of different blitzes, whether it's for the pass or whether for the run. They do some tremendous things on defense, and they've played together for a while and it's evident."
Johnson on if he might be playing for Tony Dungy's job "I really have never played for anyone's job. There are always consequences. There were always rumors about Denny (Green); there were always rumors about what was happening in Washington. You never play for coach's job, you don't play for another guy's job, you play for yourself to win. If you win everything takes care of itself. Tony (Dungy) is a tremendous coach, and he deserves everything he gets. When I made my decision to come here, he was one of the factors, and I'm even more impressed and happier with my decision to come here."
Johnson on Philadelphia's blitz packages "Sometimes they blitz, and it's not always against the pass, sometimes it's for run support. They do a great job of covering it and their secondary, when they do versus the pass they put a lot of pressure on your running game. They try to get you in 2nd and 3rd-ling situations. A lot of teams don't blitz when it's 3rd-and-10, but they're a team that does blitz. They can blitz at anytime, but we'll work a little extra harder on that this week. I felt like last week was a big benefit as far as getting some keys on them. I'm sure they feel the same. I feel like last week was a big benefit for us."
Bucs rookie LT Kenyatta Walker on Pro Bowl DE Hugh Douglas "I've been challenged this whole year. Hugh Douglas is another great end, a Pro Bowl end, that I'll face this year. It's not the first time I've faced a good end and it won't be the last. At my position, that's what I'm paid to do and I have to go out there and do it."
Bucs Pro Bowl CB on Eagles WR James Thrash: "I remember James when he first started in Washington as a special teams guy, more or less, as a returner, and he kind of came up as a receiver. I didn't think much of him until this year to tell you the truth. He has really impressed me. He has turned himself into one of the elite, I think. He makes plays. He is a "Giant Killer". He killed the Giants this year by himself. He has turned himself into a deep threat I think, and if anyone is their possession guy, it's him."
Bucs Pro Bowl WR Keyshawn Johnson on the Eagles secondary: "They have a Pro Bowl guy (Troy Vincent) that is consistent in his play. I think Al Harris is consistent in his play and I think Bobby Taylor is consistent in his play. They have a very, very good secondary, probably, as a unit, the best secondary we're going to see all year."
Pro Bowl LB Derrick Brooks on Philadelphia's new playing surface, which is similar to what the Tampa Bay Devil Rays play on "It's as fast as we make it.
Bucs Pro Bowl SS John Lynch on Tampa Bay's extended preparation for Philadelphia In reality, we've actually prepared three weeks," said Lynch. "We actually got a full week of practice in during that week back in September, so it's a team we're very familiar with. It's almost like playing against a Central Division opponent. They know us very well and that usually makes for good football and close games, and I think that will be the case."
Bucs MLB Jamie Duncan on Eagles QB Donovan McNabb "The more he stays in the pocket, the better," said Duncan. "We hope he stays in the pocket, but this is a playoff game and they're going to pull out all of the tricks. He's going to try to move the chains and make plays, and that's what we're expecting."
"We're playing at home and we obviously want to win," said Yoder. "You never want to go into a game thinking it doesn't mean anything. Some of the guys that are banged up will rest, but it's a good chance for a lot of the backups to get a lot of game reps."
FLYNN'S FINAL: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers say they are more mentally prepared for this year's playoff game at Philadelphia than last year's. Although I'd have to agree with them, I'd love to ask them the same question about 20 minutes after they take the field at what will be a freezing Veterans Stadium.
The fact that Tampa Bay is 0-21 in games played in temperatures less than 40 degrees is more than a coincidence. The Bucs just don't play well in cold weather, and understandably so. But this is why the Pewter Pirates needed to get at least one home game in the playoffs, and it's a little too late to accomplish that.
There is good news for the Pewter Pirates. Forecasts are calling for temperatures near 50 degrees at kickoff and some meteorologists are saying temps might not fall under 40 degrees during the game.
Although the Buccaneers do not have a chance of getting a home game in the playoffs, they do feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel. If Tampa Bay can defeat Philadelphia, they will play the St. Louis Rams the following weekend. The Bucs feel like they have the Rams number, and they wouldn't have to worry about weather in St Louis' dome. But first things first--the Bucs have to figure out how they are going to beat the Eagles on the road.
Well, the Eagles have not played that well at home this season. They've only posted a 4-4 record there, and the Bucs have gone 4-4 on the road. While the Bucs are a totally different team when playing on the road, they might matchup well against the Eagles at Veterans Stadium.
Philadelphia's secondary is too good to consistently pass on, so Tampa Bay will have to find success on the ground. The Eagles run defense has been suspect this season, and Philly received a huge blow when DT Hollis Thomas, the Eagles best run stopper, suffered a season-ending injury two weeks ago. While Tampa Bay should pound FB Mike Alstott with reckless abandon on Saturday, don't be surprised if offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen still tries to get RB Warrick Dunn involved in the running game.
If the Bucs can advance past the Eagles in the playoffs, things could become very interesting, but Tampa Bay will have to play a near-perfect football game in order to escape Philly with a win. The only times I recall the Bucs playing near-perfect football are from games played at Raymond James Stadium, not on the road.
While the Bucs could pull this one out, I see the Eagles soaring past the Pewter Pirates at home in a close one.
FLYNN'S PICK: Eagles 20 Bucs 16
Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com
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