Eagles-Bucs: The 3 Matchups to Watch
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Eagles first road game of the year takes them to Tampa for a matchup with a 1-0 Buccaneers team coming off a near 50-point performance against perceived Super Bowl contender New Orleans.
Journeyman backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, under center due to the personal-conduct suspension of Jameis Winston, will be seven days off a near-perfect 156.3 passer rating against NOLA and the Harvard product will be trying to solve a Jim Schwartz defense which made a former MVP signal caller in Matt Ryan look pedestrian during the Eagles' 18-12 Week 1 win.
Kickoff Weekend in the NFL often spawns overreaction and the adjustments start in Week 2. Here are the three matchups that could turn the game on Sunday afternoon:
-Bucs WR Mike Evans vs. Eagles secondary: The physical Julio Jones was about the only positive Atlanta could point to on offense in Week 1 and coming up next for the underrated Philadelphia defensive backfield is one of the few receivers on the planet who is comparable to Jones from a measureables standpoint, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Evans.
Evans tortured one of the best cornerbacks in the game, Marshon Lattimore, last week, hauling in seven catches in seven targets for 147 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. The 2014 first-round pick has also been very productive against NFC East competition as a whole at Raymond James Stadium, averaging seven receptions for 114 yards in three games.
Most of the talk in Philadelphia is about DeSean Jackson due to his history with the Eagles but Jackson may not even play as he attempts to get through the concussion protocol and Evans is the more difficult matchup for Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby anyway.
"Everybody has their own little personality, so to speak," Schwartz said when talking about a Tampa Bay receiving corps which also includes emerging former Penn State star Chris Godwin as well as talented 6-foot-6 tight end O.J. Howard. "DeSean Jackson has always been a guy that can take the top off the defense. We played him in a game two years ago and he made a lot of big plays like that. Took us a while to get adjusted to it.
"And then you get a guy like Evans, even if he's covered, he can still be open. He's a very physical player. You have to be physical with him."
-Eagles Defensive Line vs. Bucs offensive line: The Eagles generally have a few advantages no matter the opponent and the defensive line is usually one of them. The end rotation with Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett and Chris Long is the best in all of football and Fletcher Cox, already one of the top two or three DTs in the NFL, seems to have taken it up a notch in 2018, while veteran Haloti Ngata still has plenty of juice left when it comes to stopping the run. Conversely, even during a 48-point effort against the Saints, Tampa Bay's tackles, Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson, were average at best and the interior is hurt by the fact that right guard Caleb Benenoch is dealing with a knee injury.
-Eagles vs. the weather: Florence has been downgraded from a hurricane as it slowly moves inland but the usual quick jaunt to Tampa is going to take a bit longer this time as flight paths have been diverted westward to avoid the storm before circling back to Central Florida.
“It’s flying around it more than anything,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Friday. “Obviously it’s a wide storm and it’s pretty high, pretty tall. So you can’t go over it so we’re going to have to go a little further west, I believe, and then come back around. Just safety for everybody, making sure that everybody arrives there safely.”
The extra time in the air is secondary, however, to what's expected at kickoff, temperatures in the lower 90s and a real feel reaching to 105 degrees.
That's the definition of oppressive and even though the Eagles have been dealing with plenty of heat and even more humidity in the Philadelphia area, that's taking it up a notch and the Bucs feel the heat is always one of their advantages during September games simply because they are the ones used to dealing with it on a daily basis.
"The only thing really is just continue to educate our players and talk to them every day about hydration," Pederson said when asked about preparing for the mugginess of Central Florida. "It can't start on Friday or Saturday. It has to start earlier in the week. Our Wednesday practice was extremely humid outside, so it gives us a good sort of taste of what it's going to be like down there. I know it's supposed to be low 90s, I think. Heat index probably a little warmer than that. Those are all things that we can't let it affect us. With the hydration and even the nutrition part of it and rest, making sure that they are ready to play in games like this, especially early in the season."
973espn.com Prediction: Eagles 27, Bucs 21
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen