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Weapon X Mailbag: What can we expect from the Eagles’ defense against Tom Brady

Plus: Black pants on Sunday?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

WILD CARD WEEK, BABY!

Ahead of Sunday’s matchup with the Eagles down in Tampa, I’m coming at you with a brand new mailbag.

If you want to ask a question for a future mailbag, you can tweet at me or email bleedinggreeninfo(at)gmail(dot)com.

@alex252: What can we reasonably expect from Jonathan Gannon’s defense vs Brady?

I’ve said this on podcasts over the last week too, but when a team is playing Tom Brady, they’re not just playing Brady the player. They’re playing the aura of Brady. They’re playing a guy who’s been in the NFL longer than some of these younger players have had concrete memories. They’re playing the GOAT. They’re playing a figure who’s more machine than man. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon needs to have his group mentally prepared for the Herculean task they’re facing to start.

The Eagles dethroned Brady four years ago, though they did very little to slow him down on his way to a Super Bowl-record 505 passing yards. The Birds certainly aren’t dropping 41 points against the Buccaneers, so the defense is going to have to step it up a bit compared to 2018 to say the least.

Brady has been a monster this year, throwing for a career-high 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns. Both marks led the NFL. Brady’s inexplicably better now as a quarterback in his age-44 season than he was when the Eagles first played Brady in the Super Bowl 17 years ago. What will be working against Brady and the Bucs’ favor this postseason, however, is the losses to their wide receiver corps. Tampa Bay will be without Pro Bowler Chris Godwin, who suffered an ACL tear back in Week 15. Antonio Brown has been cut because of, well, uh, Antonio Brown things. 28-year-old Cyril Grayson, who has 11 career catches and has never played in the postseason, started at receiver for the Bucs this past Sunday. Superstar Mike Evans remains as good as ever, but the Buccaneers’ receivers suddenly aren’t as terrifying as they looked just a handful of weeks back.

Gannon has Darius Slay, Steven Nelson and Avonte Maddox playing better than I ever could’ve imagined. Slay has looked revitalized in the regular season, resembling the All-Pro corner he was with Detroit. Nelson has been the best-case scenario for a veteran stop-gap starter. Maddox has lived up to the promise he showcased as a rookie in 2018 and earned a new contract extension along the way.

Slay will be following Evans across the field all afternoon. Eagles fans will need Big Play Slay to live up to his namesake, as he has done frequently this season. No one makes fewer mistakes than Brady, but Slay has to be ready to pounce on an opportunity if one arises.

As for Rob Gronkowski? Gronk is still Gronk. I don’t know how a team is supposed to defend him. I’m just hoping Brady forgets he’s on his team like he did in the first half of Super Bowl LII.

A pass rush that is 31st in sacks in the NFL getting after Brady and making his day even slightly more difficult than he hopes for it to be would be a welcomed surprise too! Disguise some blitzes maybe? It’s Tom effing Brady. Throw the kitchen sink at him.

@danmcguckin_: Who is the standout star for the Birds on Sunday?

I think back, yet again, to the last time the Eagles faced Brady in the postseason. I was so skeptical of Nick Foles going into the playoffs that year before he went supernova in the NFC Championship Game over the Vikings and essentially broke their franchise. I wasn’t sure if he could replicate that performance against the Pats. I was convincing myself of all these different possibilities that would result in an Eagles win, wondering if, say, someone like Corey Clement could win Super Bowl MVP ahead of the game (I bet on him +2500). I was way up my own ass and overthinking it. If the Eagles were going to win, it was going to be because of the quarterback. It was going to be because of Foles.

If the Eagles are going to beat the GOAT and the defending Super Bowl champs, it’s going to take Jalen Hurts playing the best game of his life. The Eagles won a single game against a team with a winning record this season, a November victory over the 9-8 Saints. Hurts rushed for three touchdowns that afternoon as the Eagles dropped 40 points on New Orleans.

If the Eagles win (and I will pick them to win because that’s the only fun way to go through life), I’m banking on Hurts carrying them to the NFC Divisional Round. If the Eagles lose? Well, probably no one stood out and they got crushed.

@georgeythegreek: With Tampa being the 3rd ranked rush defense, do you think the Eagles should stick with it or instead use incorporate more quick passing plays

Trying to be a quick passing team is why the Eagles were in a 28-7 hole in the third quarter against Tampa Bay back in Week 6. The Eagles are no longer the team they were the first chunk of the season. Nick Sirianni’s offense has been raised from the ashes like a phoenix.

Going back to that Saints game for a second, there was a similar conversation that week. At season’s end, New Orleans ended up first in Football Outsiders’ Rush Defense DVOA. They were fourth in rushing yards and first in yards per carry. They felt like the perfect kryptonite to the Eagles’ potent rushing attack. How did the Birds respond to those worries? They torched the Saints on the ground, rushing for 242 yards.

In comparison, the Buccaneers are 12th in Rush Defense DVOA, third in rushing yards and 15th in yards per carry.

The Eagles need to play their game. They got to the playoffs playing like a pre-World War II team that absolutely pounds the rock and overwhelms defenses with their offensive line’s physicality.

Keep with it. If the Eagles win, it’ll be a day where Hurts rushes for 70-plus yards and the whole unit tops 200 yards on the ground as they control the clock and keep Brady off the field.

@rynej__: Let’s get to the important stuff - what’s your spread looking like for Sunday?

Nothing is set in stone yet, but I’ve got some ideas. I’ve written about Eagles homegating in the past. That is an ESSENTIAL read before you plan your playoff party. I’ll scream it until he day I day: you can never go wrong with just pizza and wings while watching football. Overthinking this is not good.

I’m thinking of adding some new wrinkles though. I could be into some sautéed shrimp that I'll dip in sriracha. It’s pretty close to a lock that there will be some homemade buffalo chicken dip as well. For the chips? The multigrain Tostitos scoops have long been my go-to choice. I’ve also been digging the Almond Nut-Thins from Blue Diamond Almonds lately. Having both them and the scoops gives me two great options that will also help while I’m stress-eating in the fourth quarter.

I could see myself ordering from Urban Village Brewing in Northern Liberties. Getting an order of their spicy buffalo smoked wings and a Moroccan chili order too would be dope. I’d grab a nice white ricotta pie and add prosciutto and then probably just a classic traditional pie to go with it.

I’ll be responsibly enjoying some ice cold Kenwood too. Perhaps I’ll grab a fifth of Espolon tequila too in case I want to do a celebratory shot when the Birds miraculously pull off a win.

As John Wick would say, “Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.”

@aidan45237: Do you think the NFL will let the Eagles use black pants in the playoffs? Precedent for alternates in the playoffs was set in SB 53 when the Rams got to wear their alternates.

I’m pretty positive that the teams are allowed to do so, but just frequently chose not to. I believe the Falcons have done so during the Matt Ryan era in addition to the more obvious example of the Rams wearing theirs against the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.

White jerseys with black pants has become the Eagles’ go-to away uniform since their win in Denver in Week 10. The team is 3-0 in that combination. Counting the occasions where the Birds went with all-black uniforms, they’re 5-0 while wearing black pants this season.

The vibes would be tremendous if the Eagles continued on their black pants look. If they go for all-white uniforms on the road, I would be very, very scared on Sunday.

@Bryan_k215: When will the Eagles turn over the run game to RB1 in Kenneth Gainwell?

I’ve been as high on Kenny Gainwell as anyone this season, but if some combination of Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard and Boston Scott are healthy, they’re going to get the vast majority of carries on Sunday.

Still, I would lean towards having at least four running backs on the active roster. Gainwell’s ability as a pass-catcher can’t be overstated, especially in an offense that isn’t taking any downfield shots. He’s an ideal security blanket for Hurts in the short game.

Here’s an idea I’ve had this week... the Eagles are down a wide receiver with JJ Arcega-Whiteside landing on injured reserve. The Eagles have typically carried five receivers on gameday: DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward and Arcega-Whiteside. If the Eagles don’t want to call up someone like KeeSean Johnson, John Hightower or Deon Cain, would they consider carrying just four wideouts and using Gainwell in the slot? They’ve used him there a bit this season already. It’s not as if the Eagles do many true four-receiver sets anyway. It also gives the team additional security because their top-three running backs are all banged up.

Gainwell’s a playmaker. He was second on the team with six touchdowns despite having just 101 offensive touches. The Eagles have to get their best playmakers out there on the field however they can!

@JerryJokeman: Will da Eagles make da playoffs? Jk. Should Milton Williams start to play more snaps?????

A third-round rookie, Milton Williams has really come on down the stretch. Over the last four games, Williams has had four tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and a sack while averaging about 32 snaps per game. He’s a disruptor! A dude who’s a factor in the run game and can get after the quarterback is the perfect interior defensive lineman to spell Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox in the playoffs. He has some versatility and can line up outside too. I’m buying all the Milly stock!

@IrishIggles: Beat Brady at home. Beat Rodgers at home. Go to Arlington and knock off the Boys in the title game. Birds..team of destiny?

As the old saying goes: “October flowers bring February parades.”