By Kevin McGuire
The Philadelphia Eagles look to recover form a demoralizing loss against the Miami Dolphins with a second straight home game against a team from Florida. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers make their first trip to Lincoln Financial Field since the 2009 season with a franchise quarterback, something the Eagles appear to be in search of.
Bucs’ Season Record
After topping the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon, 10-6, the Buccaneers improved their record to 4-5 on the season, having alternated wins and losses each of the past six weeks. On the road, Tampa Bay has gone 2-2 this season, with their most recent road trip resulting in a 23-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Of course, the Eagles opened the season on the road with a loss in Atlanta.
The Eagles own a 10-7 all-time series lead against Tampa Bay, which includes two postseason victories and one crushing postseason defeat, the last game at Veterans Stadium in the 2003 NFC Championship Game. The Eagles have won two straight against Tampa Bay, with both games played down south. The last time Tampa Bay came north to play the eagles was in 2009, with the Eagles winning 33-14. Donovan McNabb had three touchdown passes and no interceptions and Jeremy Maclin had 142 receiving yards in the win.
Buccaneers on Offense
Tampa Bay is building a new foundation for a long-term future on offense with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. The top overall draft pick of the 2015 NFL Draft and a former Heisman Trophy winner, Winston has already shown an ability to make some good plays happen as well as the ability to make a bad play nearly as often. To date, Winston has completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 2,159 yards and 10 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He ha salso been sacked 16 times, but tampa Bay will allow him to go through his growing pains, as they should.
Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin is in his fourth season out of Boise State, and he continues to be the main running threat for the team with 706 yards and seven runs of 20 or more yards. He has just three touchdowns, but Winston has been a good red zone running threat as well, with four rushing touchdowns this season. Martin has fumbled twice this season, and he has lost both of them to the defense. Winston has also fumbled twice, but they have not led to turnovers by the Bucs.
Tampa Bay also has a young wide receiver in Mike Evans leading the team in his second season out of Texas A&M. Johnny Manziel’s former Aggies teammate leads Tampa Bay with 662 receiving yards, but the sure-handed Evans has just one touchdown catch this season.
Buccaneers on Defense
According to the latest defensive rankings, the Eagles will face the second best defense they have seen this season. Tampa Bay enters the week with the NFL’s seventh best total defense in terms of yards per game allowed (334.2 ypg allowed). Only the New York Jets have allowed fewer yards per game among teams the Eagles have played so far. The good news is the Bucs do give up plenty of points. Tampa Bay’s 26.3 points per game allowed ranks 26th in the NFL. The question is whether or not the Eagles are capable of taking advantage of Tampa Bay’s tendency to give up points. On Sunday Tampa Bay held Dallas to just six points, but they gave up 32 points to the Giants the previous game.
Tampa Bay’s defensive line could pose a threat to the Eagles offensive line if Jason Peters is still out. Jacquies Smith leads the team with five sacks so far this season, and Gerald McCoy has 4.5 sacks in the middle of the line.
Tampa Bay’s Players to Watch
QB Jameis Winston: While much of the focus in Philadelphia was placed on the possibility of getting Marcus Mariota in the NFL Draft, Winston was in the mix as well. Tampa Bay drafted him first overall to keep him in the state of Florida, and over time he will have the chance to kill teams with his arm and his feet. When he is locked in on a target, he can be precise. But he can try forcing some plays a swell when he should play it a bit safer.
DE William Gholston: The third year defensive end out of Michigan State had just two tackles and a sack against Dallas last week, but had seven against the Giants the previous week. Gholston will bring some good pursuit off the edge of the line for Tampa Bay against an Eagles offensive line that has struggled this season.
As much as you might like to say the Eagles should beat a bad team in Tampa, the truth is the Eagles are not the kind of team right now that is in position to put a bad team away. The Eagles are a bad team themselves. This week, the Eagles will have to bring pressure on Winston and force him to make some mistakes, which he is prone to do. On offense, the Eagles could be in for a fight in the trenches as the offensive line will be faced by a difficult defensive line that can bring some problems for Sam Bradford (or Mark Sanchez). To say the Eagles should win this game may be a bit of a reach given how the team has played this season. If Tampa Bay leaves with a win, then the Eagles will be in some real serious trouble moving forward.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.