Six weeks into the 2013 season, the parity and unpredictability of the NFL is proving itself yet again. The New York Jets and Cleveland Browns are both 3-2. Houston and Atlanta, popular preseason picks to play in the Meadowlands this February, are a combined 3-7. The Pittsburgh Steelers have not won a game. Also, the Philadelphia Eagles, at 2-3 under first-year head coach Chip Kelly, lead the NFC East and would play a home playoff game if the season ended today.
Of course, so much can change so quickly in the NFL, and all the statistics just mentioned could be irrelevant in two weeks. The one statistic that Eagle fans everywhere would like to see stay the same is the last one: their team hosting a playoff game. The task this week is to beat a reeling Tampa Bay Buccaneers team to earn a 3-3 record on the season and build something that fans haven’t experienced in nearly three years: a meaningful winning streak.
Nick Foles is in at quarterback for an injured Michael Vick and this means a number of things. Obviously, it means another year of Vick having to hear the “you can’t stay healthy for 16 games” charade. More importantly, it changes the Eagles’ offense. Since day one, Chip Kelly has said that he does not need a mobile quarterback to run “his offense” and he will adapt “his offense” to the skill set of the players he has to work with. This would mean no read-option and much less running out of the shotgun, as Foles possesses nowhere near Vick’s athleticism. The running threat of Vick has opened up gaping running lanes for LeSean McCoy on read-option plays and shotgun runs all year long. As a result, McCoy is the NFL’s leading rusher and having an All-Pro season. When Vick was taken out of the game last week vs. the Giants, “Shady” was keyed in on and bottled up. Chip Kelly must adapt his offense this week to keep McCoy effective against a stout Tampa Bay defense. McCoy keep the Bucs honest so they can’t zone in on Foles and force him to beat Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson, and their excellent secondary.
Despite the Buccaneers talent and production on defense, they are what their record says they are: 0-4. Along with only averaging 11 points per game, they have been a team in turmoil. They are fresh off the Josh Freeman drama and head coach Greg Schiano is gradually losing his locker room. Now Freeman is in Minnesota, and rookie Mike Glennon had a very underwhelming debut at QB against the Arizona Cardinals. This would all seem to bode well for an Eagles team coming off a nice win in New York. Unfortunately, the Eagles are not a team that can take anybody lightly. They need to show up and simply outplay the Buccaneers, not assume they’re more talented and can just coast in the Florida sun. Yes, the Eagles won in Tampa last season, but it took a last-second TD to win it. If that one pass falls incomplete, it’s a different story.
There are reasons to be worried. The football gods have not kind to the Eagles when facing Tampa Bay. The 2002 NFC Championship Game, the last game at Veterans Stadium, was arguably the most devastating loss in franchise history. In 2006, The team rebounded from two first-half pick sixes thrown by Donovan McNabb to take a late one point lead in Tampa, only to see Matt Bryant sink them with a 62 yard field goal as time expired. Right now, Tampa Bay is a fresh team off their bye week, facing the Eagles at home and due for a win. Also, on the field this season, the Eagles defense has yet to put together back-to-back solid defensive efforts. Not even good, just solid. A strong outing against a poor offense would be a huge step forward for defensive coordinator Bill Davis, who vows to build a feared unit here.
In both of the Eagles’ wins, they have had to score 30+ points. They also put up 33 in a losing effort against San Diego. Despite the fact the Buccaneers are due to finally win a game, I think the Eagles prevail in a different way than normal this Sunday. I don’t see Nick Foles putting up 30 points on this Tampa Bay defense. The Eagles’ defense started to catch some fire last week and now they get an opponent that is abysmal moving and scoring the football. This game will likely be the lowest scoring game of the Kelly era to date. The Eagles will take what Tampa gives them and score their share of points, force two interceptions against Glennon, and pull of the road win to get to 3-3. Dallas beats Washington on Sunday Night Football to get to 3-3 and set up a battle for first place in Philadelphia on October 20. I think this season’s about to get real exciting.
Eagles 20, Buccaneers 16