WHERE: Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
SPREAD: Eagles by 3.5
WHERE THE EAGLES STAND: The Eagles are 3-2 and in first place of the NFC East Division
EAGLES HEAD COACH: Andy Reid
EAGLES OFFENSIVE COORINATOR: Brad Childress
EAGLES DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jim Johnson
EAGLES SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: John Harbaugh
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 20th RUSHING: 22nd (T) PASSING: 15th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st RUSHING: 2nd PASSING: 4th
HOW THE EAGLES RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 4th RUSHING: 6th PASSING: 5th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 3rd RUSHING: 6th PASSING: 5th
MATCHUP TO WATCH Eagles QB Donovan McNabb vs. Tampa Bay DT Warren Sapp: Will Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp show up in Philadelphia? It's something he's been accused of not doing in the team's two playoff losses to the Eagles. But Sapp is playing a lot better now than he was back then. Sapp has recorded 20 tackles and six sacks through six games this season. That sack total is as many as he had through 16 games last season. It's become obvious that Tampa Bay's defense feeds off of the play of Sapp. That said, No. 99 will have to show up against Philly on Sunday.
Eagles QB Donovan McNabb has been a cancer that the Bucs haven't been able to cure. The fact that McNabb has been sacked 19 times in five games bodes well for Sapp and Co, who have recorded 19 sacks of their own this season. Not only will Sapp have to put pressure on McNabb in the passing game, but he'll also have to contain the elusive McNabb on designed quarterback run plays, including draws.
DID YOU KNOW…
…with a win against the Eagles, the Buccaneers would be off to their best start in franchise history at 6-1?
WHICH WAY WILL THEY RUN?:
Philadelphia's rushing attack is averaging 140 yards per game. Eagles QB Donovan McNabb is leading the team in rushing with 241 yards and he's averaging 7.7 yards per attempt. But McNabb has been forced to scramble too many times this season and Tampa Bay is hoping to pressure the Eagles' elusive quarterback, but they're also hoping to produce different results. The Eagles primary ball carrier is RB Duce Staley, who's averaged 3.9 yards per carry this season. Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid likes to switch things up with situational back Dorsey Levens, who averaging 5.8 yards per carry. If the Buccaneers can contain McNabb and Co. in the running game, which is something they've failed to do in the two playoff games, they'll significantly increase their chances of pulling off the upset in Philly. Tampa Bay's run defense has been outstanding thus far. They're only allowing teams to rush for an average of 77 yards per contest. The fact that Tampa Bay faced and halted a similar diverse rushing attack in Atlanta bodes well for the Pewter Pirates.
SECONDARY WILL BE TESTED:
McNabb has thrown for 1,280 yards, 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Much of his success thus far is because of his receiving corps. McNabb has done a great job of spreading the ball around. Three receivers have more than 20 receptions this season. Eagles WR James Thrash is a speedster and is McNabb's go-to guy. He's hauled in 21 passes for 332 yards and caught four touchdowns. Former Packers WR Antonio Freeman has been very productive in Philly now that he's back in the slot. Reid called Freeman the best slot receiver to ever play in the West Coast offense. He's caught 17 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Philly WR Todd Pinkston gives the Eagles their third legitimate wide receiver on offense. He's caught 21 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns.
Tampa Bay's secondary is playing as well now as ever before. They're only allowing teams to pass for 173 yards per game and the defense has intercepted 12 passes this season. While McNabb hasn't thrown many interceptions, he's only completing 59 percent of his passes. Tampa Bay's defensive line can't allow McNabb to have a lot of time to throw. That said, if they get pressure on McNabb, cornerbacks Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith will stand an excellent chance of containing the receivers. The Eagles receivers have made a living on yards after the catch, which is what is expected in a West Coast offense. Tampa Bay's corners have been excellent in terms of tackling thus far and they'll need to tackle well in Philly.
Tampa Bay's offensive line didn't allow one sack last week and they've only given up nine sacks in six games this season. But they'll face their biggest test of the year on Sunday when they attempt to hold off Philadelphia's relentless pass rush. The Eagles have recorded 16 sacks this season and they're led by right defensive end Hugh Douglas, who's recorded four of those. Douglas made life unpleasant for Tampa Bay's two previous left tackles (George Hegamin, Kenyatta Walker), but he'll face LT Roman Oben this time around. Oben has been inconsistent this season, but he'll have to be on his game on Sunday. The good news is Oben has faced Douglas before from his playing days with the New York Giants. The Eagles will throw plenty of blitzes as Johnson and Co in order to disrupt the timing of Gruden's version of the West Coast offense. Tampa Bay's running backs will have to play a big part in picking those up. Johnson was forced into throwing four interceptions against Philadelphia in the playoff game last season. He can't be effective under that type of pressure, which means Tampa Bay's offensive line will have play their best game of the year on Sunday.
SILENT, BUT DEADLY WEAPON:
Eagles tight end Chad Lewis doesn't get a lot of attention and/or recognition due to superstar QB Donovan McNabb's presence. But Lewis has been the beneficiary of the attention drawn to McNabb and Philly's receivers. Lewis has caught 18 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns this season. Lewis makes a living on catching passes in the flat. Tampa Bay weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks and middle linebacker Shelton Quarles have played brilliant football thus far. They're both tied in the lead for tackles recorded with 40 this season. Tampa Bay has done a good job of containing tight ends in the past, but Lewis will definitely test them on Sunday.
Philadelphia's defense probably doesn't get enough credit, but the Tampa Bay players certainly know what they're capable of from their two playoff meetings. The Bucs didn't score an offensive touchdown on the Eagles in either one of those meetings. The Eagles have arguably the best secondary in the league. They've created six interceptions and are led by safety Brian Dawkins, who leads the team in tackles with 32 and has also picked off two passes. Although Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has a pass-oriented offense, they'll be hard-pressed to throw the ball effectively against Philadelphia on Sunday. That said, Tampa Bay's best shot at moving the chains will be in the running game. The Eagles are only allowing 86.4 yards rushing per game, but that number is a bit deceiving seeing as Philadelphia has played with big leads in their three wins this season. Their run defense should be considered suspect and Tampa Bay is coming off of their best rushing effort of the year where FB Mike Alstott and RB Michael Pittman combined for 179 yards rushing against Cleveland. "The A-Train" has the hot hand, but Pittman may be a valuable weapon out of the backfield in the passing game. The Bucs may need to open up the running game by making the Eagles pay for blitzing.
FOR MORE INFORMATION PHILADELPHIA EAGLES:
Visit the Philadelphia Eagles' site and TheInsiders Philadelphia Eagles' web site for more information on Tampa Bay's next opponent – the Philadelphia Eagles.
BUCS SOUND OFF:
Bucs QB Brad Johnson on the Eagles:
"There have been a few rivalries built up. The St. Louis game has been one and obviously this one has kind of been one, they have been the nemesis of the Bucs the past couple of years. We have our hands full, but that doesn't really have to do with us this year. It's a new beginning, new game, new identity for us and the thing about them is they have a lot of players who have played in the same system a long time, under the same defense and they have a lot of pro-bowl players over there. They have a tremendous team and you can tell how they play together."
Tampa Bay DT Anthony McFarland on the confidence of the Bucs' defense:
"Confidence is definitely high, as it should be after five wins. We have to keep it in perspective and understand that you are only as good as your last time out. And I think this team will. We have a lot of veteran guys on this team that can handle a five-game winning streak and that's the most important thing. We always say that we need to continue and do the things that got us here and just go out and work hard at practice to prepare ourselves for a 60-minute battle.
Bucs LB Derrick Brooks on comparing Falcons QB Michael Vick to Eagles QB Donovan McNabb:
"I think that each one is an outstanding quarterback. Obviously, Donavan is more experienced and bigger, but each one poses a threat with what they do, run and throw. So we will have to contain (McNabb), and stop him from making plays. We need to contain him and play our game. I know I say that repetitively, but that's the bottom line, play our game and make plays. We do those things and we'll be fine."
Bucs WR Keenan McCardell on making plays against the Eagles defense:
"We need to go out and execute. We cannot let them dictate the game. They want to blitz, and we can't let them dictate. If we can establish the run, it changes their blitzes up a little bit. And when they blitz you need to make plays, big plays."
McCardell on facing Philadelphia's secondary:
"It will be the best corners we have faced this year. It's going to be good. As a receiver, you want to face good corners because it brings out the best in you. And I think myself, Keyshawn (Johnson), and all the other receivers feel that way. They are probably looking at it in the same way, that they get to match up against two good receivers. I just need to do my job, though, and let everything else fall where it may. If I'm doing my job, nine times out of ten, I'm having a good day."
Tampa Bay hasn't played a perfect game this season, but they'll have to come pretty darn close to playing a perfect game on Sunday if they're going to escape Philadelphia with a win.
Although the Bucs are 5-1 and the Eagles are 3-2, the odds are definitely stacked against Tampa Bay. The Pewter Pirates have lost three consecutive games to the Eagles and they were outscored in their two playoff meetings, 52-12.
Veterans Stadium is one of the hardest stadiums to play in. It certainly hasn't been kind to the Bucs. Tampa Bay's offense didn't score a touchdown against Philadelphia in those two playoff contests, but then again, they didn't have Jon Gruden as their offensive coordinator, either. Tampa Bay must score early, and that score must be a touchdown, not a field goal. Philadelphia feels like they have Tampa Bay's number, just as the Bucs feel the same way about the Rams. But if the Bucs can get on the board early and take the rowdy Philly crowd somewhat out of the game, it will bode well for them.
Tampa Bay has played outstanding football on the road and they're 3-0 away from Raymond James Stadium this season. In fact, the Bucs' defense has not allowed a touchdown on the road this season. But Veterans Stadium might be a different animal. The Eagles certainly are. Their offense is scoring an average of 33 points per game this season.
This is a game that the Buccaneers are supposed to lose. At 3-2, the Eagles really can't afford to lose this one. Tampa Bay can. It's not the end of the world if Tampa Bay loses in Philly. A 5-2 record is still very respectable. Speaking of respect, Tampa Bay will certainly earn a lot of it if they can pull off the upset in Philadelphia on Sunday. But that's a big if.
FLYNN'S PICK Eagles 17 Buccaneers 13
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