Eagles vs. Buccaneers Game Preview: 5 questions and answers with a playoff enemy

The Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. To get a preview of this wild card matchup, I reached out to our haters at Bucs Nation. The great Gil Arcia he kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming playoff game. Let’s take a look at the answers.

1) How do you stop Tom Brady and this offense? It’s obviously not easy to do, but some teams were able to accomplish so much this year. What did you take away from those performances?

The Bucs have done a good job of keeping Brady clean and straight over the past two seasons. The opposition sacked Brady just 22 times in 719 pass attempts. That’s the best in the league. But we’ve seen that when defenses can get to him and get to him often, Brady can’t get in sync with his receivers as often as he’d like and interceptions are thrown in turn. We see him countless times with the Saints, and in the first half of Week 18 against the Panthers. You can also return to the Rams game in Week 3. When Brady is “shaken up,” the timing of his shots is, well, thrown out. When he’s able to dissect a post-snap from the defense, he can shoot the ball quickly and effectively, even on his fourth and fifth reads. Philadelphia’s defense would do well to reflect the Saints’ success against Brady. We saw a bit of that same scheme from the Panthers last Sunday in the first half.

2) The Bucs entered the Eagles’ game opener with the best run defense in the league. Since then, he appears to have dropped (tied for 13th in opponent rushing yards, 12th in DVOA). How vulnerable are the Bucs against running, moving quarterbacks? Do you think they will look to sell out to stop the run and put the game on Jalen Hurts’ pitching ability? Asking about a team that will likely be looking to hit the rock this Sunday.

Tampa Bay has never been good against quarterbacks who can fight. Part of that is because linebackers play so aggressively under Todd Bowles’ scheme that when they’re in the dugouts they lose quarterback contention. The same thing happens when the corners are covered by the press and there is nothing to protect the outer rails. I can see Hurts easily shredding the Buccaneers with his legs. As for their run-stopping defense, Tampa Bay has dealt with plenty of injuries on the defensive line: Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh have missed time, as well as the lack of linebacker Lavonte David. All four of those guys are strong against the run, especially when they’re all on the field together at the same time and that’s what the team expects to see for the first time in a while this Sunday.

3) Which Eagles player and/or matchup should the Bucs be most concerned about?

Jalen Hurts without a doubt. As previously stated, Tampa Bay struggles severely against struggling quarterbacks. I really hope the Eagles come dressed up for those races designed for Hurts. The thing that hurts (no pun intended) the Buccaneers defense the most when they play these quarterback styles is when they hang around after the snap to confuse the Buccaneers’ second-tier defense. If a good handful of plays play out that way, I hope the Tampa Bay defense is looking for answers.

4) Who is the X factor for the Bucs in this game?

Linebacker Devin White hasn’t been playing like he was last season. Despite being in the backfield countless times this season and continuing to show flashes, he hasn’t been able to finish plays. He’ll have to get to Hurts often throughout the afternoon if the defense wants any chance to limit the Eagles’ offense.

5) Who wins this game and why? Score prediction?

I’ve seen plenty of predictions, even from Bucs Nation staff, predicting big double-digit wins by the Buccaneers. Several even putting the Bucs over 30 points. But I see a closer game than that, especially when we’re supposed to be hit by a storm Sunday afternoon with wind gusts approaching 30 miles per hour. What I hope is that the Bucs ride Leonard Fournette’s legs when he returns this week, apply continuous defensive pressure to the Eagles’ offensive front and own the clock long enough to keep their defense fresh. I have Tampa Bay beating Philly 24-20, though I wouldn’t be “surprised” if it was the other way around.

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