The Eagles seem to have been handed a complete redo.
Last week, they had the chance to jump into the NFC East Lead by beating the Dolphins. Of course, that didn’t happen when the Eagles relented a 13-point lead and fell 20-19.
This week, thanks to a Giants loss to the Patriots and a New York bye, the Eagles have a second chance to get to the top of the sluggish and ugly NFC East division. They’ll need to beat another team from Florida, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Eagles and Bucs are each 4-5, but have gotten here in seemingly opposite fashion. Philly could have a much better record if not for several fatal self-inflicted wounds made in key close games. Tampa has suffered a putrid defense and some early growing pains under new quarterback Jameis Winston (who is admittedly playing much better now) but has battled to win four contests.
With the teams on a collision course and each looking to keep pace for a playoff spot, Sunday’s game is big for both sides.
Here are three interesting storylines to monitorduring the 1 p.m. game (on FOX):
Playing with heroes
Winston, the first-overall pick and rookie quarterback for Tampa Bay, grew up in the same small Alabama town as Eagles veteran linebacker DeMeco Ryans. And as he told reporters earlier this week, Winston is inspired by his hero Ryans.
“It was always my dream [that] if I wasn’t going to play for the Eagles, [I’d] at least play against them or have a chance to go against them,” Winston said. “But one thing that is important about this week is I get to go against one of my hometown heroes in DeMeco Ryans.
“He’s still a great role model and just a great person that I look up to. It’s bigger than the Eagles right now.”
Winston will realize his dream Sunday, as Ryans will play opposite him at inside linebacker.
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Make a Mark in the passing game.
The Buccaneers have shown they are vulnerable to a passing attack. And not even necessarily a good one, as they were annihilated by both Kirk Cousins and rookie Marcus Mariota.
With Sam Bradford out with a concussion and shoulder injury, the Eagles passing attack is in relatively good hands in Mark Sanchez, who started eight games last season and has a command for the Chip Kelly offense.
“That is one thing about Mark – his work ethic,” Kelly said.”He’s in this building very late every night, he works extremely hard on the game plan, he prepares himself like he’s going to be the starter whether he’s named the starter going into that game or it occurs in the first quarter, second quarter or third quarter. When he goes in there, he has to be able to function in our offense, so we don’t have to say, ‘Hey, we have to throw this whole chunk of offense out. We just only can go with this small portion of it.’ We’re allowed to run, because of Mark’s understanding of what we’re doing, we can run everything that we have in our game plan that week.”
Catch the Muscle Hamster
Tampa running back Doug Martin hates his nickname. Perhaps the Eagles can get under his skin by calling him “Muscle Hamster” Sunday.
They’ll have to do something to stop the running game, as the Bucs are sixth in the NFL in rushing, thanks in large part to Martin’s 706 yards (and more than 300 more from backup Charles Sims).
The Eagles rank 18th against the rush, but have only allowed three rushing touchdowns (tied for second best in football).