The Philadelphia Eagles are back in the playoffs after a year-long hiatus, and as the 7-seed, they will have the hardest road to the Super Bowl in the NFC. First out will be the No. 2 seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers, followed by the No. 1 seed Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field if they are able to advance to the division round.
Since it is the playoffs, we have a matchup record for each side of the ball. We started with the Eagles’ attack on the Buccaneers defense on Tuesday. Today we’ll look at the Buccaneers ‘attack on the Eagles’ defense.
1) Jonathan Gannon vs. Tom Brady
The Eagles’ defense was good against bad quarterbacks this season, but the good / big ones shredded them:
|Opposite QB||Comp / Att (Comp%)||Yards (YPA)||TD-INT||QB rating|
|Week 3: Dak Prescott, Cowboys||21/26 (80.8%)||238 (9.2)||3-0||143.3|
|Week 4: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs||24/30 (80.0%)||278 (9.3)||5-1||131.0|
|Week 6: Tom Brady, Buccaneers||34/42 (81.0%)||297 (7.1)||2-1||102.1|
|Week 7: Derek Carr, Raiders||31/34 (91.2%)||323 (9.5)||2-1||113.6|
|Week 9: Justin Herbert, Chargers||32/38 (84.2%)||356 (9.4)||2-0||123.2|
Of that group, the Eagles actually did a decent enough job on Tom Brady Week 6. It looked early on like it was going to be an ugly night as the Bucs had consecutive 75-yard TD drives on their first two possessions. But as the game progressed, the defense did enough to force three points, a turnover on downs, an INT and another INT that doesn’t count, though it’s worth noting that after the Bucs got a 28-7 lead, so took his foot off the gas a bit and played more conservatively.
If you will notice, it’s been a while (week 9) since the Eagles’ defense has met a top-level quarterback in a game that meant something. Gannon was asked where the defense has improved since then.
“All areas, honestly,” he said. “The running game, the passing game, rush and cover, cover and rush, being in the right places, winning our leverage side a little more … So we know we’re in this game, our level of execution has to be high.”
As you all know, Brady is without a doubt the best player in NFL history.
“This guy, he’s a trained killer, and he knows how to play a good offensive and what he needs to do to keep his offensive on track,” Gannon said.
Gannon will need a unique plan, the Eagles will leave Brady deprived of the turf.
2) Eagles’ secondary vs. Bucs’ exhausted wide receivers
It feels like a lot of people are thinking of Brady at this stage of his career as a quarterback who gets the ball out quickly and is an assassin in the short-to-mid game. And yes, he can definitely beat you that way, but the Bucs are far from a dink-and-dunk team. They push the ball down the field. In fact, they led the NFL this season in passing games on over 20 yards with 76. Here is the company they hold in the big play department:
|Team||Passing play on 20+ yards|
It is no coincidence that nine of the 10 teams reached the playoffs.
Buccaneers will have to figure out how to keep the big plays going without Chris Godwin (torn ACL) and Antonio Brown (recently released). In Mike Evans, Godwin, and Brown, the Bucs once had arguably the best trio of wide receivers in the NFL.
They still have Evans, a 6-foot-5 beast that can win with speed or with its physical play on controversial catches. He has had a remarkable career, topping 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first eight (!) Seasons in the NFL.
With Godwin and Brown out, the Bucs still have good depth in position, including the following players:
• Tyler Johnson: 36 catches for 360 yards in 2021. Possession receiver who lacks explosive athletic abilities but makes controversial catches and will bully smaller opposing corners.
• Breshad Perriman: On his pro day in 2015, Perriman ran a blistering 4.24. His spider card:
Perriman is a big game threat who has experience with Bruce Arians’ attack all the way back to 2019, where he had 645 yards and 6 TDs catching passes from Jameis Winston.
• Scott Miller: Miller had 33 catches for 501 yards (15.2 YPC) and 3 TDs in 2020. Didn’t play much in 2021. Think of the poor man’s Wes Welker / Danny Amendola / Julien Edelman.
In summary, while the losses of Godwin and Brown openly hurt, it’s not like the Bucs are now forced to play someone like JJ Arcega-Whiteside.
Gannon focused on providing a scouting report for each of the above recipients and focused instead on Tampa’s offensive efficiency.
“I would say, just from a global offensive perspective, the timing of their routes is very, very, very good,” he said. “The distribution of their concepts is very good. The ball comes out extremely quickly, of course, it is on time. And in the passing game, just like in defense, you have to have all 11 executives at a high level.
“You can see who’s out there for them, they all perform at a very high level. Their offensive line is very good, they have a lot of continuity with their offensive line. Tom is on the same side with all the receivers and backs. They know how to adjust their routes based on coverage.When they call certain concepts, the distance is perfect, the timing is perfect, and they perform at a high level.Their technique within it is very good.
“So that’s what sticks out more on the tape than the people. We know they have weapons all over the place, but it’s the same side, and the continuity and level of execution is very high.”
I think conventional wisdom would say that Darius Slay will follow Evans wherever he goes, but it is the larger, physical recipients who tend to give Slay the biggest problems. See: Davante Adams and DK Metcalf, in 2020.
3) Rob Gronkowski vs. Eagles’ linebackers and safeties
With the Bucs’ exhausted wide receivers knocked up, Brady has predictably leaned more on his tight-ends, namely Rob Gronkowski, who had 14 catches for 252 yards in Tampa’s last two regular season games. He can still play.
But beyond Gronkowski’s abilities as a player, what makes him so difficult to defend is that he’s been playing with Brady for about a hundred years, and they know exactly what to expect from each other. For example, in Cowboys-Bucs matchup week 1, the Cowboys show a powerful flash, with Cover-0 behind them. The original call is for Gronk to stay inside to block, but Brady hears a glance where Gronk blocks and then escapes. The result is a TD.
These are the kind of high-level adjustments that two veterans make on the go when they know as much as Brady and Gronk.
The Eagles did not have to face Gronk in week 6. They must be assigned good against him in this match.
4) RB Leonard Fournette vs. Eagles’ tackle
In the Week 6 match, Fournette received 28 touches. He had 22 carries on 81 yards and 2 TDs and added 6 catches on 6 goals (mostly dump-downs) in 46 yards. While the Eagles kept him at 3.7 yards per. carry and 7.7 yards per. reception, they had a chance that these averages were much lower, but by revisiting that game, I would say they missed close to double-digit tackles on him.
“I always thought we tackled pretty well,” Gannon said. “If you look at the Tampa game, I don’t think we tackled as well as we did in some other games. Some of it was them; some were us.”
The Eagles’ running defense finished 2021 as number nine in the running defense. They were much better at defending the race in November and December than they were in September and October. A visual image:
* Week 18 training team games omitted
As you can see, the Eagles allowed at least 100 yards on the ground in each of their first seven games. Then they allowed at least 100 yards once (omitting the meaningless week 18 training team game). Some of it was the quality of the opponent, and some of it was game flow, but the Eagles’ defense also simply did a much better job of being in the right place to get stops, and they have mostly tackled well.
Fournette was able to get solid wins on first downs and convert on 3rd and short situations against Eagles Week 6 due to broken tackles. If the Eagles’ defense as a whole can tackle better against him, they can put themselves in a better position to climb punts and field goals instead of letting drives continue.
5) Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave vs. Bucs’ inner offensive line
The Buccaneers have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and as Gannon noted above, they have been playing together for a while. Their line looks like this:
|Donovan Smith||Ali Marpet||Ryan Jensen||Alex Cappa||Tristan Wirfs|
The interior of the line is staffed by a trio of blue-collar little schoolboys in Marpet (Hobart College), Jensen (Colorado State – Pueblo) and Cappa (Humboldt State). They are all scrapers who are particularly good at the running game. However, they sometimes give up the pressure in the middle of the passing game.
We often say in these matchup posts that Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave need to create pressure in the middle, but this is especially true against a quarterback like Brady, who will not often venture out of his pocket, but who has a unique pocket- presence and know how to make subtle but effective movements away from edge rushers. He has less effect when the pressure is right in his face.
The Eagles have a wealth of resources tied into their defensive tackles. It is now that they need to see these investments pay off.
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