After a tight six-point victory over the Atlanta Falcons to open up the regular season, the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles will now take their show on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers are riding high coming into this matchup as they defeated NFC South foe, the New Orleans Saints in a high-scoring shootout. Can the Eagles defense put pressure on Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and force him into some mistakes? And will Nick Foles get going against a banged up Tampa Bay defense?
To answer these questions and more, here are three things to watch out for in this Week 2 match.
As we all know Foles will be the starter once again this week because Carson Wentz still has not been cleared yet to play. Outside Wentz and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, the Eagles are pretty healthy.
However, the Bucs are coming into the game as the wounded opponent with four players possibly out for Sunday.
Veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol and is nursing a minor shoulder injury. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is dealing with a knee injury and reportedly isn’t sure if he will play against the Eagles. Second-year cornerback Vernon Hargreaves was placed on IR and cornerback Brent Grimes did not practice on Wednesday.
With that being said, the Bucs’ defense is in trouble and that spells good news for the Eagles’ offense.
In last week’s game, Foles and the offense did not get vertical a lot against Atlanta’s Cover 3 defense. But that should change on Sunday with both Hargreaves and possibly Grimes out. We should expect to see the Eagles take a few deep shots with Mike Wallace and Shelton Gibson.
2. Battle of the backup QBs
In normal circumstances; we would be talking about Wentz vs. Jameis Winston. However, that is not the case and we are left with Foles vs. Fitzpatrick. Both quarterbacks are streaky, meaning when they are hot they look unstoppable. But when they are struggling, it is a scary sight.
Fitzpatrick lit up the Saints’ defense last Sunday, completing 75 percent of his passes for 417 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. The veteran out of Harvard was unstoppable and able to stand tall in the pocket.
New Orleans’ defense did not register a sack on Fitzpatrick but that should change against the Eagles, who sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan four times.
Foles, however, should be better than his modest 117 yards and one interception performance from Week 1. The key for the Eagles’ coaching staff will be to get him in a rhythm and incorporate the running game.
If they do both of these things, Foles could easily be in line for a 250-yard passing game with a couple of touchdown passes.
3. Keeping the Jay Train rolling
Eagles running back Jay Ajayi was instrumental in the team’s victory last week as he scored two rushing touchdowns. Philadelphia did not use Ajayi early in the game to keep him fresh for the home stretch.
The decision to do that by Pederson paid off as Ajayi punished the Falcons’ defense, wearing them down to the point where second-year running back Corey Clement was able to bust through the line for a 21-yard run late in the fourth quarter.
Heading into Sunday’s game, the Eagles should prioritize the run game by getting all three guys into the action, but giving Ajayi the lion’s share of the carries. He wants to be the workhorse back and why not get the Jay Train rolling against a Tampa Bay defense that gave up 117.5 yards on the ground last season.