The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel north to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night, taking on a team under new leadership that has flashed serious potential in moments and faltered in others.
Considering the Eagles are a bit of an enigmatic squad - having posted a lopsided victory over Atlanta, a close win over an impressive Carolina team, a tight loss to San Francisco, a well-fought, high-scoring defeat to Kansas City, and a collapse against Dallas - it's tough to understand exactly what challenge awaits the Buccaneers when they enter Lincoln Financial Field.
1. What is your assessment of Jalen Hurts' play in his first full season as an NFL starter? Given the connections between Doug Pederson, Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni, has Hurts been forced to adjust his play much from last year or has he focused on building upon his strengths?
Ed Kracz: I know Hurts made four starts last year, but the more that came out since Doug Pederson was fired the more I believe he wasn’t really developed and everybody was tiptoeing around the presence of Carson Wentz, especially Pederson who wanted to try to rehab Wentz after the season so he didn’t want to look like he was buying too heavily into Hurts.
It was a tough spot for the rookie QB.
So, my assessment is based on five starts this year, and it’s been very uneven. He has yet to string together two solid starts, but he showed a lot of grit and perseverance in leading the win over Carolina. He struggled most of the day but made plays late to spark the win.
He throws a nice deep ball but needs to work on accuracy with the intermediate routes.
As for adjusting his play, is his sixth offense in six years, so he has been adjusting continually for a long time. This year is no different.
2. Speaking of Sirianni, how has the new head coach changed the Eagles compared to Pederson's leadership? Whether it's schematically, in the locker room, or whatever comes to mind?
EK: The jury is still out on Sirianni.
He has looked like a rookie play-caller and seems intent on continuing to run an RPO offense at the expense of actually handing off the ball. They had only nine running plays early in the fourth quarter against Carolina and against the Cowboys he gave the ball to his RBs just three times.
Sirianni has a lot of rah-rah traits to him. He’s big on wearing T-shirts that support his players. He’s worn some with Jalen Hurts and Brandon Graham on the front and wore a Beat Dallas shirt prior to playing the Cowboys on MNF in Week 3.
He can be fiery at times and gave DC Jonathan Gannon an earful after his defense gave up 235 and 42 points in back to back weeks
He seems to have the respect of his players, but as far as long-term success as this team’s head coach, that still needs to be demonstrated.
3. Sitting at 2-3 with inspiring wins as well as losses to two teams that might be better than their record indicates, what are the strengths and weaknesses of this Eagles team? Is the ceiling high or do you have concerns about their ability to contend?
EK: The biggest weakness is their running game. They have two very good ones in Miles Sanders and rookie Kenny Gainwell, but Sirianni doesn’t run the ball. The result usually costs them the time of possession battle.
Defensively, their linebackers are limited, though there could be a bigger role in the future for second-year LB Davion Taylor. The third-round pick in 2020 struggled with a calf injury through training camp and into the season but played a career-high 24 snaps against Carolina. He is fast, athletic, but raw.
Their greatest strength is their defensive line, led by Javon Hargrave, who has six sacks and one more will break his career-high of 6.5. He also has seven tackles for loss, which is fourth-most in the league and 27 tackles overall.
Sack numbers aren’t great, but they put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks and are capable of collecting several QB hits in a game.
WRs DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins are young but blossoming. Smith, the rookie, has been the go-to guy and leads the team in catches (25) and yards (315) while Watson, in his second season, led the league in yards per catch at 21.9 heading into Week 5.
4. How can the Eagles' defense slow down the Buccaneers' daunting passing offense? To give Philly credit, its pass defense has played very well this year by the numbers.
EK: The best way to slow a passing game is to pressure the QB, make him uncomfortable. That’s what the Eagles will need to do. Gannon doesn’t use dime defenses and rarely blitzes, relying on his front to get the job done. The Eagles probably have their best two cornerbacks in quite some time, with veterans Darius Slay and Steve Nelson. Slay had two interceptions of Sam Darnold in Carolina and Nelson’s pick in the final two minutes sealed the win.
5. What is your prediction for the game? Any hot takes?
EK: It’s awfully hard to pick the Eagles in this one, even though they have won seven straight Thursday games, which is the longest streak in the NFL right now. It’s a young team at key spots and going against a veteran lineup and better roster top to bottom like Tampa Bay will be too much for them.
Final score prediction: Bucs 35, Eagles 21.
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