3TFO: Eagles @ Buccaneers, Week 14
If nothing else, the 2012 season for the Eagles and Buccaneers has been eventful. Both have had their fair share of headlines and controversy, but only one remains in the NFC playoff race. Will this week’s game feature more fireworks and head-scratching events?
For Philadelphia it has been the nightmare season that can’t end soon enough for all concerned. It is at the point where it seems another person loses their job after each loss. This week it was fiery defensive line coach Jim Washburn, whose act had apparently grown old with head coach Andy Reid. It is safe to say Washburn wasn’t the reason for the terrible season, but at this point he was clearly disposable. This week they will try to break an eight-game losing streak and start building some positive momentum in Tampa.
Tampa Bay is 6-6 and entering the final quarter of the season with hopes of a playoff berth in the muddled NFC wild-card race. They are basically in must-win territory this week with little room for loss and much harder scheduled games on the horizon. Is Tampa Bay ready to make a statement and beat a struggling team that they should handle? These matchups will play a large role in determining if they can.
Doug Martin vs. DeMeco Ryans
In most years the rookie campaign Doug Martin has put together would make him the leading candidate for rookie of the year, but this is no ordinary year and the best he can hope for is a third-place finish. That doesn’t diminish his role in this offense, however, and his impact on this game. Martin has forced a league-high 57 missed tackles and ranks second in our elusive rating, behind only Adrian Peterson. Martin has been a workhorse with the third-most rushing attempts in the league and 32 more touches in the passing game. The fear of him slowing down must be a concern for the Bucs, and the rookie had his two worst yards-per-carry games since Week 3 in the past two weeks.
The man in the middle of the Eagles’ defense attempting to slow down Martin will be DeMeco Ryans. Ryans is one of the very few bright spots for the Eagles and has stabilized a position that was in flux for years. Ryans is eighth among inside linebackers in Run Stop Percentage, making a stop on 11.2% of running plays. More impressive is that while making 52 tackles in the run game, he has missed just two tackles. Ryans is by far the most consistent tackler on the team and must be at his best to slow down Martin. A weakness Tampa Bay might try to expose is Ryans in coverage. He has allowed 40 receptions and four touchdowns and could be asked to cover Martin out of the backfield one-on-one.
Nick Foles vs. Buccaneers Secondary
The 3-9 Eagles are in evaluation mode and started that process by announcing Nick Foles as the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. Not a bad week to do so, as Foles gets a chance to play the worst pass defense in the league. The Buccaneers rank last in the NFL with 3,713 passing yards allowed. Foles is coming off his best week as a pro and his first positive PFF grade, although it was only +0.1. He needs to continue to improve each week and show he is a starting-caliber player. He does have some luck on his side; it seems that each week he has at least two possible interceptions dropped.
Can he take advantage of a secondary that has been picked on most of the year? Starting cornerbacks E.J. Biggers and Leonard Johnson hope they can get the better of the rookie and make some big plays. Biggers is 54th in the league, allowing a reception every 10.4 snaps he is in coverage and Johnson is even worse, 100th overall, allowing a reception every 8.1 coverage snaps. If Foles can find some holes in the secondary he will have a chance to keep the Eagles in the game and pull off the upset.
Trent Cole vs. Donald Penn
With Washburn out the Eagles will stray away from the wide-nine alignment as their primary formation. How this impacts defensive end Trent Cole remains to be seen, but Cole has not thrived in the system the way he did last season when he was the most productive pass rusher in the league. His PRP has dropped from 14.9 to 9.8. He still ranks 12th with 38 total pressures and three sacks in 298 pass-rushing opportunities, but he hasn’t been his usual force.
This might be his chance to improve those numbers though because he draws Buccaneers left tackle Donald Penn. Penn has struggled this season and ranks 60th among offensive tackles in Pass Blocking Efficiency. He has allowed 40 total pressures and three sacks in 422 pass blocking situations. Penn containing Cole is so important because Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman in among the worst in the league when under pressure. Freeman’s completion percentage is just 42.9% when under pressure to go along with six interceptions. Penn will need to protect his blind side if Freeman is going to have a successful day.
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