1. DT WARREN SAPP
Sapp is pissed off that one Pewter Report editor (yours truly) suggested that the Bucs might be better off salary cap-wise if he was traded instead of being signed to a long, expensive contract extension next year. Then Sapp was the target of a headline in the Philadelphia Daily News that screamed "Send In The Clown!" followed by a parody of his website, QBKilla.com, by the Daily News that was renamed TwinkieKilla.com. Sapp has also been irritated by the presence of knucklehead Philadelphia reporters in Tampa. He should have enough motivation to have a huge game against Philadelphia on Sunday.
But will he show up and deliver an impact game in the playoffs? In his last three postseason games, Sapp has turned in five tackles at St. Louis in 1999, four tackles at Philadelphia in 2000 and four tackles at Philly last year. No sacks. No forced fumbles. No fumble recoveries. No wins.
Sapp loves the limelight and trash-talkin' in the media, but for a player who hasn't recorded a sack since Week 8 at Carolina and turned in one-tackle performances against Pittsburgh and San Francisco, he needs to start backing up his talk. Sure he draws a lot of double-teams, but great players don't use that as an excuse. They fight through those double teams to make plays.
Sapp likely won't draw many double teams on Sunday as Philly will choose to double nose tackle Chartric Darby and let either guard Jermane Mayberry or John Welbourn block Sapp one-on-one.
2. DE SIMEON RICE
Rice has enjoyed playing against former high school teammate Donovan McNabb over the years. He's also enjoyed sacking the crap out of him. Not counting his sacks on McNabb from his days as an Arizona Cardinal, Rice has dropped the Eagles quarterback three times in the two times he has played Philadelphia as a Buc, not including last season's meaningless regular season finale. Two of those sacks came in last year's 31-9 loss in the wild card game at Veterans Stadium.
Rice matches up well with Philadelphia's 340-pound left tackle Tra Thomas, who has the size and wingspan to keep him at bay unless Rice gets an advantage with a quicker first step. Rice admitted to the media that he put his game on cruise control at the end of the season after racking up 14.5 sacks through the first 12 games of the 2003 campaign. Rice only had one sack in the final four games, but dedicated himself to playing harder in the playoffs. He responded with a sack and a forced fumble, his seventh of the season, against San Francisco last week.
In Week 7, Rice set up Tampa Bay's only touchdown in a 20-10 loss by zooming past Thomas to sack McNabb and force a fumble, which was recovered and returned for a touchdown by linebacker Derrick Brooks. Rice will need to produce another sack and forced fumble to aid Tampa Bay's cause on Sunday.
3. LB DERRICK BROOKS
There's no reason to think Brooks won't bring his "A" game to the table in Philly. Brooks has played a part in seven turnovers this year, six interceptions, including one last week against San Francisco, and a fumble recovery, and needs to deliver another one or two on Sunday at Veterans Stadium.
Brooks is the best coverage linebacker in the NFL and is adept at breaking on the ball. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb will throw several balls to running backs Dorsey Levens, Brian Westbrook and Duce Staley. Brooks has to get his hands on those passes or limit their yards after catch by making his patented sure tackles.
Brooks must also sniff out Philly's screen passes and diffuse them before the Eagles offensive linemen have a chance to get up a head of steam downfield to block. His statline must include at least 10 tackles and one turnover for the Bucs to have a chance to stop the Eagles offense.
4. FS DEXTER JACKSON
The Eagles took advantage of Jackson on Todd Pinkston's 42-yard touchdown catch just before halftime in Week 7. That score put Philly up 10-7 at the half and gave the Eagles confidence in the second half. Jackson was caught in no man's land in the middle of a cover 3 scheme with Pinkston racing down the right sidelines and another receiver running a post to the middle of the field.
Cornerback Brian Kelly failed to re-route Pinkston towards the middle of the field at the line of scrimmage, which allowed Pinkston to run free, but Jackson was late deciding which open receiver to cover and couldn't prevent the score. The Eagles ran this play out of a Twins formation to the right. Expect Jackson to get tested again by the same play, and expect him to be ready.
Jackson also must come up big in the run-stuffing department, too. He's playing closer to the line of scrimmage this sure and must look to wrap up Duce Staley instead of bringing the big hit. Staley is a good tackle-breaker and has bounced off plenty of safeties in his time in the NFL. Not giving up the big play needs to be Jackson's focus on Sunday.
5. DT CHARTRIC DARBY
Most teams would take advantage of Anthony McFarland's absence by doubling Warren Sapp and taking their chances against Darby, a reserve who has been elevated to the role of starter since McFarland went on injured reserve six weeks ago. But the Eagles have a strong offensive line, especially up the middle with center Hank Fraley and guards John Welbourn and Jermane Mayberry, a Pro Bowler, and they will take their chances by single blocking Sapp on run downs and doubling Darby, who only weighs 270 pounds. The Eagles want to attack the nose tackle and create some push for their rushing attack.
Darby has to beat the double team with a quick first step and work to penetrate it. By not weighing close to 300 as McFarland does, Darby doesn't have the girth to stand there and try to stalemate the offensive line and fill the gap. He must use his quickness and attack the double-team. if he simply catches the blocks he'll be driven back five yards every time.
Expect the Eagles to run right at Darby on Sunday. He's been a good replacement for McFarland, but Philadelphia still perceives him as the weak link on the defensive line.