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

Opponent perspective on Philadelphia’s wild card game.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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

1) How does one slow down Tom Brady and this offense? Obviously not easy to do but a few teams were able to accomplish as much this year. What did you take away from those performances?

The Bucs have done a good job keeping Brady clean and upright through the past two season. The opposition has sacked Brady just 22 times on 719 pass attempts. That’s the best in the league. But we’ve seen when defenses are able to get to him and get to him often, Brady is unable to sync up with his receivers as often as he’d like and in turn interceptions are thrown. We see it countless times with the Saints, and in the first half of Week 18 against the Panthers. You can go back to the Rams game in Week 3, too. When Brady is “rattled” the timing of his throws is, well, thrown off. When he is able to dissect a defense post-snap he’s able to release the ball quickly and effectively — even to his fourth and fifth reads. Philadelphia’s defense will be wise to mirror the Saints success against Brady. We saw a little bit of that same scheme from the Panthers this past Sunday in the first half.

2) The Bucs entered the first Eagles game with the league’s top run defense. Since then, it seems to have fallen off (tied for 13th in opponent yards per carry, 12th in DVOA). To what extent are the Bucs vulnerable against the run and mobile quarterbacks? Do you think they’ll be looking to sell out to stop the run and put the game on Jalen Hurts’ throwing ability? Asking for a team that will likely be looking to pound the rock this Sunday.

Tampa Bay has never been great against quarterbacks that can scramble. Part of that is because the linebackers play so aggressive under Todd Bowles’ scheme that when they are engaged in the trenches they lose containment of the quarterback. Same happens when the corners are in press coverage and there is nothing guarding the outside lanes. I can see Hurts easily shred the Buccaneers with his legs. As for their defense stopping the run, Tampa Bay has faced a lot of injuries across the defensive line — Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Ndamukong Suh have all missed time — as well as missing linebacker Lavonte David. All four of those guys are stout against the run, especially when all of them are together on the field at the same time and that is what the team expects to see for the first time in a long time this Sunday.

3) Which Eagles player and/or matchup should concerns the Bucs the most?

Jalen Hurts without a doubt. As stated previously, Tampa Bay severely struggles against scrambling quarterbacks. I truly expect the Eagles to come in disguise those designed runs for Hurts. What hurts (no pun intended) the Buccaneers defense most when playing these styles of quarterbacks is when they delay after the snap to confuse the second level of the Buccaneers defense. If a good handful of plays a drawn up that way, I do expect Tampa Bay’s defense to be searching for answers.

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

Linebacker Devin White hasn’t been playing up to where he left off last season. Despite being in the backfield countless times this season and still showing flashes, he hasn’t been able to finish plays. He will have to get to Hurts often throughout the afternoon if the defense wants any shot at limiting the Eagles offense.

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

I’ve seen a lot of predictions, even from the Bucs Nation staff, predicting big double-digit wins by the Buccaneers. Several even putting the Bucs at over 30 points. But I see a closer game than that, especially when we are supposed to be hit with a storm Sunday afternoon with wind gusts nearing 30-plus miles per hour. What I expect is the Bucs to ride the legs of Leonard Fournette as he returns this week, apply non-stop defensive pressure to the Eagles offensive front, and possess the clock enough to keep their defense fresh. I have Tampa Bay beating Philadelphia 24-20, although I wouldn’t be “shocked” if it went the other way.