The Buccaneers will open the playoffs by facing the Philadelphia Eagles for the second time this season. Tom Brady played well in round one, going 34-42 for 297 yards and two touchdowns, although he also threw an interception that was basically a punt.
A lot has changed since then for Tampa Bay offensively, specifically the absence of multiple star players like Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette.
For a better idea of what the Buccaneers are in for this time around against Philly, I enlisted the help of Cole Jacobson, a fellow Next Gen Stats Researcher and guest columnist for Football Outsiders and Bleeding Green Nation.
“The Eagles were known as being susceptible to the deep ball in Jim Schwartz’s time as defensive coordinator, but with Jonathan Gannon’s primarily two-high safety scheme, the focus has been on keeping everything in front of them,” said Jacobson
“Unfortunately, that has still resulted in problems in the secondary, albeit of a different nature. According to Next Gen Stats, the Eagles have allowed a 110.4 passer rating on quick passes (< 2.5 seconds time to throw), the 2nd-highest mark in the league behind only the Jets. Likewise, on short passes (passes that travel 0-9 yards beyond the LOS), the Eagles rank in the bottom three of the NFL in completion pct, TD-INT ratio, and passer rating allowed.
"While these numbers are discouraging in general, they especially may be problematic against Brady, who set the Next Gen Stats era single-season record with 27 pass TD on those short passes in 2021.”
Jacobson doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the Eagles’ pass defense, and his claims are backed by Eagles tape past and present.
The Eagles made things way too easy for the Buccaneers back in Week 6, allowing six first downs to Tampa’s diverse screen game. And Philly didn’t just struggle in the quick game, either.
Mike Evans wasn’t a focal point of that game’s plan, but he was able to create separation downfield multiple times against Pro Bowler Darius Slay, who shadowed Evans for most of the game. With Tampa short-handed at receiver, we could see more action between the two on Sunday night.
Rob Gronkowski missed the first matchup due to injury, but O.J. Howard had a nice game as his replacement, including a score near the goal line. Gronkowski’s been on a hot streak lately, and the Eagles’ tendency to let receivers run unchecked through the secondary could keep that going.
The Eagles have allowed big gains on some of Brady’s favorite concepts the past month, particularly when combined with play-action to displace defenders and exacerbate holes in coverage.
Late in the down count, Philly has struggled to contain the inside-most receiver in 3X1 formations from Cover 1. This alignment gives the receiver virtually the entire field to work with and exposes the Eagles’ lack of depth at cornerback.
At the end of halves, the Eagles like to play soft zone to keep plays in front of them and prevent big plays. This strategy works wonders on paper, but doesn’t hold up as well against experienced passers who can move defenders with their eyes.
So if this game comes down to the final possession, Philly better pray TB12 doesn’t get the ball last.
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