The big question coming into this championship game at the Vet is whether the Buccaneers truly have the firepower to finally challenge the Eagles' frenetic defense.
The Eagles' secondary is the best in football. Linebackers Carlos Emmons and Shawn Barber can cover tight ends and shadow running backs flanked out at receiver or into the flat. And as we all know, the Eagles pass rush is lethal.
In fact, you can make the argument that coming into this game, the Eagles defense is playing just as well as
So how will the Buccaneers' offense win the matchups within this matchup, this time around? Here's how the game breaks down.
Buccaneers pass offense versus Eagles pass defense: If
In all likelihood,
The Eagles' corners have been exploited at times in man to man coverage this season, but Vincent and Taylor should own this matchup because they have the speed to stay with
The key for the Eagles will be throwing off Brad Johnson's timing by jamming the receivers at the line of scrimmage. Look for the Eagles to crowd the middle of the field by using a number of dime packages and by dropping a couple of their linebackers into coverage, in order to take away the crossing and slant routes.
Buccaneers rush offense versus Eagles rush defense: If Gruden has any confidence going into this battle against the birds' awesome defense, it stems from the fact that his Raiders ran all over the Eagles front seven last year in the Vet.
In that matchup,
However, that was then, this is now. Gruden's line isn't as physically imposing as his front five was in
Still, Gruden will look to run the ball because he has no other way of attacking the Eagles' defense. Fullback Mike Alstott has struggled in all of previous outings against the Eagles, and Michael Pittman doesn't have the speed to challenge inside linebacker Levon Kirkland to chase him sideline to sideline. Don't be surprised if
Eagles pass rush versus Buccaneers pass protection: Out of all the matchups on paper, this is easily the biggest mismatch in the Eagles' favor. But then again, most offenses that face the Eagles blitz don't handle themselves too well.
It all starts up front, where players from the Eagle front four can bring the heat. N.D. Kalu and Hugh Douglas have great speed and a high end motor off the edges; tackles Darwin Walker and Corey Simon have the ability to penetrate up field in a hurry. To add to the mayhem, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will use a number of blitz packages from different angles in order to confuse the pass protectors up front.
There will be times when seven players are nestled closely at the line of scrimmage ready to pounce on the quarterback, and three of those players will drop into coverage. Then on the very next play, all seven come at once. Johnson has also used both of his corners to blitz off the corner at the same time and safety Brian Dawkins is someone most lines should be cognizant of, because he's one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the league.
To combat the schemes, the Buccaneers' offensive line has to recognize the defensive alignment that's in front of them, in order to pick up the blitz smoothly. If just one player misses his assignment, the pass protection scheme will be exploited. The backs and tight ends will also play a key role in picking up the Eagles blitz, if
Eagles pass offense versus Buccaneers pass defense: Traditionally,
This move could play right into quarterback Donovan McNabb's hands, because he throws the deep ball with as much accuracy and touch as any signal caller in the league. McNabb should get his opportunity to fire his passes in either half of the field, wherever the free safety is out of range to make a play on the ball.
However, if the Eagles aren't able to stretch the Bucs' secondary out some by hitting on their vertical passes,
It will also be quite tough for the Eagles to run their screen passes to their backs and receivers, because the Buccaneers front seven is extremely disciplined and fast. They'll close on most plays in a hurry.
Eagles rush offense versus Buccaneers rush defense: The Buccaneers have dominated most rushing attacks all season long, but they were outclassed against the Eagles in the regular season battle.
The matchup up front between both lines favors the Eagles, because
Meanwhile, Thomas and Runyan need to seal off defensive ends Simeon Rice and Greg Spires. While both ends are undersized, they have improved their ability to shed blockers by using their hands to disengage. Still, if Thomas and Runyan stay square against Rice and
Look for the Eagles to continue to use the end around play as well, to help create a lane for their backs to creep through, and to force Rice and
Buccaneers pass rush versus Eagles pass protection: While Philly's pass rush packs a mighty blow,
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin rarely uses the blitz to enhance his pass rush, unless his front four is tired or lacks the motivation to pursue. Ends Simeon Rice and Greg Spires have a tremendous motor, along with the speed to get a jump on most offensive tackles before they drop back into their stance. Defensive tackles Warren Sapp and Chartrick Darby are squatty players who have the powerful leg drive and quickness to penetrate through the gaps of an interior line.
They get after any quarterback, whether he is mobile or not.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles will stay patient, waiting for the right opportunity to hit on a couple of big plays in the passing game. Once Philadelphia grabs a big enough lead, they'll wear out Tampa Bay's front four by running the ball right up the middle, as the have in the past.