The Philadelphia Eagles are hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday Night Football. In order to preview this Week 6 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Bucs Nation. The jovial James Yarcho kindly took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming tilt. Let’s take a look at the answers.
1 - To what extent do the Bucs’ injuries concern you? No Gronk, no Lavonte David, no Antoine Winfield for this game. Tom Brady’s apparently dealing with a thumb issue. And so on.
The Buccaneers have lost at least one starter in each game this season. For as good as 2020 was on the injury front, they seem to be making up for it now. The loss of Lavonte hurts a lot, especially when it comes to defending pass catching tight ends like Philly has in Zach Ertz. Obviously the injuries in the secondary hurt the most as the Bucs still have the league’s worst pass defense which can be attributed largely to the injuries as well as opposing teams’ inability to run against them. Many go into the game against Tampa Bay with an offensive gameplan that has already abandoned the run.
As for Gronk, the Bucs offense struggled against the Patriots pass defense without him but seem to have gotten things on track a little bit last week against the Dolphins. Now, the Eagles are more like the Pats than the Dolphins when it comes to the pass defense so it’ll be interesting to see if the Buccaneers can overcome Gronk’s absence a third consecutive game.
It’s concerning for sure, but if you want to take the optimistic approach, these injuries have happened early enough to where the players can come back for the final stretch and the postseason.
2 - What is the Bucs’ biggest strength? How should they be attacking the Eagles?
The offensive side of the ball is certainly the strength of this team given that the majority of injuries have come at the expense of defensive players. That said, the pass catching weapons for Tampa Bay are plentiful but should not be the focus in Philadelphia. The Bucs need to execute an old school, ground-and-pound style with Leonard Fournette on Thursday night.
Fournette has asserted himself as the clear top running back on this team. He should be the focal point, setting the Bucs up with manageable third down distance and neutralizing the Eagles’ defensive strength - which is their pass defense. I would expect at least twenty touches out of Fournette in this one to control the clock and help the Tampa defense out a little bit.
3 - What is the Bucs’ biggest weakness? What should the Eagles be looking to exploit?
Certainly the passing defense. With David out, I would expect the go-to guy for Philly to be Zach Ertz. Now, DeVonta Smith will get his opportunities and deep passes will be there for the Eagles throughout the game. Even with positive matchups, the Eagles have basically abandoned any use of Miles Sanders, so unless he becomes a passing target he’ll be a non factor.
No one has had the ball thrown against them more than this Buccaneers defense and I don’t expect that to change. It’s all about whether or not the Eagles can capitalize on the opportunities that will be there for them. I can say with full confidence right now that there will be three or four third downs that are favorable for Tampa’s defense and Jalen Hurts will extend the drive with his legs. The Bucs simply can’t allow that to happen because it could prove costly at the end of the game.
4 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Bucs season?
I think this game plays out closer than a lot of people believe, but I still think the Bucs get the job done. I realize saying my score prediction of 27-13 Tampa Bay is a bit lopsided when I talked about how well Philadelphia lines up against Tampa, but this seems like a game that is neck and neck all the way through but the Bucs are able to convert a late turnover or fourth down stop into points so the score isn’t truly indicative of how close the game was.
The rest of the way, I still expect Tampa to be at the top of the NFC and towards the top of the NFL. They’re immensely talented and well coached. Now it’s about getting healthy. I can’t think of too many teams that could lose their top the corners (one has returned), their top tight end, their top pass rusher (who has since returned), their captain and inside linebacker, and their top safety and still be 4-1 on the year. To most teams, that’s a death sentence. Once they’re back to full strength, they will be one of the two best teams in football and in line for another run at a Super Bowl.