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  • Writer's picturekevinlaffey

The Battle of Tampa Bay: Eagles vs Buccaneers

Updated: Jan 24


Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Jalen Hurts running out of the pocket with Tamba Bay Buccaneers Linebacker Lavonte David chasing and Keneth Gainwell atempting to block him

Baker, Bowles, and the Blitz: How the Buccaneers can steal a win in the Battle at the Bay.


Sixty-five thousand shook Raymond James Stadium as Jalen Hurts’ Philadelphia Eagles and Baker Mayfield’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced off in a Week 3 showdown of 2-0 squads, culminating in a 25-11 victory in favor of the Birds.

 

It could be seen as just another victory in the long line of Jalen Hurts wins since taking over the helm of the city of brotherly love; they arrived to Week 12 this season with a 10-1 record, boasting wins over the Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs, and an OT thriller against the Buffalo Bills.


It took a defense as stingy as the New York Jets, with a secondary as elite as theirs has been this season (Sauce Gardner, DJ Reed, Bryce Hall, Michael Carter) to stifle Philly’s early season dominance – over the league’s then-No. 1 strength of schedule. 

Hurts had begun to look again like the leader of a top-seeded team in the NFC, and another shot at the elusive NFL MVP award.

 

Then? 


Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Jalen Hurts on the ground in week 13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals

Disaster, seemingly, has struck the Birds. The conspiracy of Big Dom’s absence is a fun idea to cope with, as they enter the playoffs on an abysmal 1-5 slide, started by the embarrassment handed down from the ivory tower on which the San Francisco 49ers sit.

 

On the contrary, while Tampa was the most unimpressive of the NFL divisional winners to hang the pennant, they finished the season 5-1, granted they capped off the division title by not handling the would-be-#1-overall-pick Carolina Panthers out in a baseball score type of game, 9-0. 


Baker Mayfield has seemingly revitalized his career in the sand dunes near St. Petersburg. While heavily advanced stats don’t lend themselves to Baker’s cause for top 15 QB, he has done nothing to stagnate this offense full of talent. The local community has taken a liking to him, Mike Evans turned back the clock and played like he was 25 years old again, and the defense provided a solid enough floor, abusing the blitz, for the talent on offense to produce.


Todd Bowles entered Tampa Bay as the defensive coordinator in 2019, and with his arrival came pressure… both on him and opposing offenses. If we take a look at his career as coach, he’s been partial to the idea of sending extra guys to get home, both conventionally, and by sending amoeba-type packages after the QB.


Taking a look back to their 2021 Wild Card matchup, Bowles blitzed Hurts on half of his dropbacks, forcing two interceptions and handily routing Philly. Tampa also handled Philly at the Linc in the 2021 regular season, in a game where Hurts completed less than half his passes for a whopping 115 yards and a pick. And sure, some things have changed; Brady is gone, Bruce Arians is gone, but that Tampa defense that suffocated Patrick Mahomes still keeps the pressure on the pocket.

 

And therein lies the potential magic. Pressure.

 


Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Jalen Hurts being sacked by San Francisco 49ers All-Pro Linebacker Nick Bosa in 2023 NFL Week 13 loss

Jalen Hurts and Nick Sirianni’s pairing has been a lot of things: electric, motivational, you could even describe the duo as, quite simply, “Philly.” They’ve dominated the league with the help of an immense pool of talent, young guys as well as talented vets still going. But every rose has its thorn, and the “Philly duo” has a large thorn in its side: the blitz.

 

In said 2021 Wild Card matchup, Jalen Hurts playoff debut, completed 54.5% of his passes when Bowles sent the blitz. While Hurts wasn’t a world-beater in the pocket for his first full season, it was still a significant drop in success for the passing game. Hurts was rushed, he was uncomfortable, and it became apparent as the game grinded on. 

Granted, 2021 Tampa Bay was flush with defensive speed headlined by Devin White and Lavonte David scouring sideline to sideline, at times performing like prime Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs.

 

It’s 2024, surely the “Philly duo” has figured out the blitz…right? Don’t be so sure.

 

Week 18, just last Sunday, Wink Martindale sent the house at Hurts. What reaped the sown pressure for his New York Giants?

 

The saying is that 'pressure creates diamonds', but Wink Martindale's defense sure looked shiny.


Keep in mind the Eagles STARTERS were playing for a large majority of the first half of this Week 18 matchup with the 5-11 Giants. Yet, if no one wore their nameplates and numbers, you may have never been able to tell the difference. The Birds went down 24-0 in the first half, Jalen Hurts completed 7-16 passes, including an exit interception, followed by a Mariota interception on the Birds' very next offensive snap.

 

The result of the pressure? A dislocated Hurts’ finger, a complete standstill in momentum for Philadelphia, and an utter blueprint for how to make games uncomfortable to the point of unbearable for the Eagles offense.

 

Now, with 20/20 hindsight of a full season to base our Wild Card Weekend matchup, let’s take a deep dive into the rematch of Week 3 foes, and see if 2021 will color this game with shades of the past:

 


Former Detriot Lion and current Philadelphia Eagles Runningback D'Andre Swift hurdling of Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr in 2023 NFL week 3 win

·  The Blitz

According to Pro Football Focus, Jalen Hurts has been blitzed higher than every starting quarterback in the NFL that isn’t named Jordan Love, seeing extra pressure a blistering 38% of his dropbacks. Unsurprisingly, given his history against the blitz, pressure led to more than half of his 15 interceptions on the season.


Given that Todd Bowles lets his dogs off the leash 38% of the time (Pro Football Reference), combined with Hurts’ clear woes against said rush and the inclement weather coming to Florida this weekend (heavy downpour, sloshy field), an ugly scene has been set for the showdown.


·  Baker vs. Philly Secondary


In Week 3, the Eagles run defense was staunch, but Tampa Bay sat at No. 2 in the league. But, the tale of the tape played out in favor of Philly, who combined for 201 yards on the ground (5 ypc). With them being able to bottle up Rachaad White (38 yards, 2.7 ypc), they were able to play two safeties high at a high clip. Mayfield, in turn, was bottled up for just 156 yards on the day and his first pick of the season.


And while the Eagles have had a few games this season (vs. KC, vs. Buffalo, vs. Miami) where they were able to produce a very solid passing attack against contenders, there have been more occurrences of QB success against them, most recently being Weeks 17 and 18.

 

Keys to Victory


Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wide Receiver signaling first down

Buccaneers


·  Rachaad White

He is very solid as a route runner out of the backfield, and can be dangerous in the flats and out route situations. If he can find open field, he could potentially move the chains just enough for their duo of Chris Godwin and Evans to get going in the vacuums of a two-high defense.


·  Use their talent

If Tampa Bay wants to right the pirate ship in their Wild Card game with the Eagles, attacking the flats with White, and chewing at the middle of the field with Godwin should  hopefully open up Mike Evans to do what he does on the flanks against the sub-par secondary and safety play that has defined Philadelphia as of late.


Use Evans, abuse Godwin, and give White opportunity in open space.


·  The Blitz

More detailed as I’ve stated above, but simply put here: SEND THE HOUSE at Jalen Hurts. Todd Bowles, use the ammunition you have (Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett, Antoine Winfield Jr.), and let them do what you pay them millions of dollars to do. With the weather expected to create ugly playing conditions, Hurts having turnover issues this year, and Tampa Bay ranking top 6 in the league in forced fumbles (18), the -2.5 favorites could be taking stock in a couch to watch the divisional round. 



Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Jalen Hurts signaling for a touchdown


Eagles


·  Let Rachaad White try

While QBs have had times you don’t tell your wife about with the Eagles’ secondary (seven 300-yard passers allowed), they still remain talented enough on the outside to potentially “snap out of it,” – whatever “it” is. Sydney Brown tearing his ACL this week, along with safety Reed Blankenship’s multitude of injuries have taken away the kind of dynamic, fly-around safety play that soared them to a Super Bowl a year ago.


The run defense remains their top defensive asset, with consistent play from the boulder Jordan Davis and the rock Jalen Carter. Although chewed up recently by the recent slate of Saquon Barkley-James Conner-Saquon Barkley in consecutive games, Rachaad White’s relative inefficiency on the season should be a green flag to cut off the offense’s ceiling and turn this into a battle of the trenches.


·  Jalen Hurts

The formula for Hurts and the offense has been quite simple to win: use your uber-talented players to move the ball down the field, push Hurts in for the score, rinse, and repeat. But outside of Weeks 2-6, and their Week 16 matchup with the Giants, the Eagles offense hasn’t really produced an all-around great game this season.

Could it be that Hurts is still hobbled with the previous knee injury (and now a dislocated finger last week), are the coordinators a serious issue, or is it some combo of myriad problems that have coalesced into a 1-5 skid?

The only thing for sure is that the frilly football is over. No one cares for stats, no one cares what your record was for 17 games; it’s win or go home, do or die. And for a man whose eyes seemingly see not black and white, but seas of red, the time is nigh.

 

So, a team that blitzes more than every other playoff team is playing against a QB who’s struggled to hold onto the ball while navigating the blitz, on a team with questions at all three coaching spots playing in a disgusting climate of rain and humidity?

 

-2.5 may be generous.

 

The Battle for Tampa Bay will be glorious, and gross, and everything in between.

 

Playoff football is back.

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