Five on the Bucs
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The same record sure looks a lot different from the perspectives of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Coming off a dreadful 2-14 2014 season the Bucs "earned" the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and kept former Florida State star Jameis Winston in-state.
Like most rookie quarterbacks Winston has struggled at times but the upside is apparent and through nine NFL games he's already helped Tampa Bay double its win total from a year ago and has the team in a muddled group chasing slumping Atlanta for the second wild card spot on the NFC side of the equation.
The Eagles, meanwhile, have the same record as the Bucs but because of the expectations, their 4-5 looks a lot less impressive with some going so far as to question Chip Kelly's long-term vision for the organization.
That's the backdrop as the team's prepare to meet in Philadelphia on Sunday with one leaving Lincoln Financial Field as a .500 football team.
Here are five things you should know about the Buccaneers:
Tampa Bay is ahead of schedule in its rebuilding process due to the raw talent of Winston, who has the top-tier skill set to be a very effective NFL quarterback for the next decade or so.
While the consistency is certainly not there yet, Winston is capable of getting hot on any given Sunday and pushing the football down the field. He's already thrown for 2,159 yards with 10 TDs and a 80.1 passer rating, not great numbers by traditional NFL standards unless you factor in the experience level.
Like most rookies the key to Winston is incremental improvement and not repeating the same mistakes again and again and from that standpoint he's been a success nine games into his first NFL campaign.
"I think he has gotten better as the season has progressed," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "You have seen from Game 1 to where he is now, there is a maturation process that's going on with him. I think he's making better decisions with the football.
"I think most of his interceptions occurred early; they haven't really occurred late. I think he's being smarter throwing the football. (Buccaneers offensive coordinator) Dirk Koetter is doing a really good job with him in terms of what they're asking him to do in their offense. But he has been impressive the last couple games."
The best friend for any QB is a good running game and the Bucs have one of the better t running backs in football in Doug Martin, who made my mid-season All-Pro team for TodaysPigskin.com and 973espn.com.
A solid runner, receiver and blocker. Martin is fifth in the league in rushing with 706 yards and behind only Adrian Paterson and Devonta Freeman with 20 rushes of 10-yards-or- more. When you move the bar up to 20-yards-or-more, Martin is second best in the league and a lot of that is due to his power as Martin is among the league leaders in both broken tackles and yards after contact.
That means this shapes up as a big test for the interior of the Eagles defense and big afternoons from nose tackles Bennie Logan and Beau Allen and as well as inside linebackers DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso are going to be a necessity.
BEWARE OF BIG MIKE
When healthy the Bucs can roll out three, monster-sized receivers in Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Right now, though, Jackson went out with a knee injury in a Week 7 loss to the Washington Redskins and Seferian-Jenkins hasn't played since suffering a shoulder injury in a Week 2 win over the New Orleans Saints.
So Evans, the 6-foot-5, second-year receiver out of Texas A&M, has been WInston's go-to-guy with 40 receptions for 662 yards and Kelly brought up names like Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall when describing him.
Evans has also been hot recently. Since returning from Tampa Bay’s Week 6 Bye, Evans has been one of the best receivers in the NFL, ranking second in the league in receiving yards and fourth in receptions during that time, while tying for the second-most receptions of 25-plus yards and piling up three different 100-yard games.
"He's very, very talented at going up and getting the ball," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said of Evans. "He has a wide-catch radius. He's a big man that catches the ball away from his body very well. He's a great leaper. They go to him often. There is a lot of vertical balls in this offense. They're going to take eight, nine shots a game an d a lot of them are, is to (Evans). That's what he does best, is go up and get it."
ANOTHER TEST FOR THE INTERIOR
A week after Ndamukong Suh wrecked the interior of the Eagles' offensive line, Jason Kelce and Co. will have to deal with another of the game's best three techniques in Gerald McCoy.
Lovie Smith's preferred Tampa-2 look is incumbent on a dominant player at the under tackle position and McCoy is already a three-time first-team All-Pro. If he's not Suh, he's the next best thing so Kelly and Pat Shurmur have to find a way to get him blocked or Philadelphia is going to see another week of too many negative plays.
"He's one of the premier, three techniques in the league," Kelly admitted when discussing McCoy. "I think, in that defense, when you have that type of guy and when the Bucs were in their heyday and they had Warren Sapp, you really need that three-technique type of player to be a disruptive force for you, and that's what he is.
"We faced him two years ago and have seen him firsthand when we played them down there, and he was as advertised. He's a very disruptive force in there and certainly someone that we're going to make sure we're aware of where he is."
That said, McCoy is also a lot like Suh in that he's having a down year, although his play has been trending upward recently.
"Gerald’s position – the three-technique position – sometimes you’re just not going to see 10 sacks, two sacks, but you can still help your football team win (by) being in your gap," Smith said earlier this week. "Gerald played sound football this past week. We’d like more splash plays out of everyone. We didn’t get a fumble recovery the other day, so there are a lot of plays we feel like we left on the field. Gerald played good ball. It allowed us to have our best defensive effort. You can’t do that without your three-technique being where he’s supposed to be the majority of the time.”
ADVANTAGE (ON) DAVID
Linebacker Lavonte David is the other big name on the Bucs defense and like McCoy, he hasn't deserved his big reputation for much of this season.
Athletically, David has everything you want in a Tampa-2 coverage linebacker much like Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks but for whatever reason he's having a bad season, often over-pursuing and running himself out of plays. The instincts and gap control also haven't been there for David and Philadelphia's much-maligned running game could get going with a few cut-back runs even without Ryan Mathews, who looks like he will miss the contest with a concussion.
“Lavonte is a great player. Same thing with Gerald,” Smith told the Tampa Bay Times. “I think you have to be careful when you just look at the stat sheet. But forgetting about the stat sheet, our play from both of those guys we would say it’s not good enough.”
973espn.com prediction: Mark Sanchez should give the Eagles offense enough juice to edge a rookie QB on the road. Eagles 24, Bucs 20
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JFMcMullen.