If the Eagles first matchup against Tampa Bay feels like it was a lifetime ago that is because, well, it might as well have been.
So much has changed since the Eagles’ Week 6 loss to Tampa Bay the game itself is almost useless when predicting who might win this upcoming Sunday in the Wild Card matchup.
Still, there are some key parts of the game worth remembering from the 28-22 loss back on a Thursday night.
Here are six notable takeaways to keep in mind for this Sunday from the team’s first matchup:
Eagles Offense Was Terrible: The Eagles’ offense got off to a hot start against Tampa Bay, going right down the field for a touchdown on a 7 play, 75-yard drive. They then totaled 42 yards on their next six drives combined. The offense was better in the second half, scoring touchdowns on two of their last three possessions, but when the game was being decided they were terrible. The good news for the Eagles is that their offense heads into the playoffs playing at a much higher level than they were back in Week 6. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is playing better and they have turned into one of the best running offenses in the league. The Buccaneers likely won’t even recognize the quarterback and game plan they are preparing for this week. For as much focus as there has been on the defense this week, the bottom line, is that it was the offense that should carry the bulk of the blame for the loss back in Week 6.
Defense wasn’t terrible: The perception from the Eagles’ first game against the Buccaneers was that the defense was terrible and why they lost the game. That isn’t exactly true. As mentioned above, the offense was actually terrible most of the game. They got seven total points on their first seven possessions. The defense, meanwhile, actually forced two punts and had an interception in the Buccaneers first six possessions while giving up 21 points. They didn’t allow a single point after the first drive of the third quarter. The second-half performance didn’t stand out at the time, but is noteworthy now, considering the Eagles’ defense has been so much better in the second half of games throughout the season.
Allowing 28 points might not sound like a good showing, but only five defenses that played the Buccaneers this season have given up fewer than the 28 total points the Eagles gave up that night.
Of course, the Buccaneers could have scored more. They ran the clock out to stop the game and likely could have had a touchdown if they wanted too. Still, 28 points on nine possessions actually isn’t that bad against Tom Brady. If the Eagles give up 28 points on Sunday they will have a good chance to win the game.
Running Game: Look back at the Eagles boxscore from Week 6 and it looks like the boxscore of a completely different team. Jordan Howard, Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell registered a combined zero carries against Tampa Bay. Miles Sanders carried it only nine times, one fewer than Hurts. They finished with 100 total rushing yards — their third-lowest total of the season. The Buccaneers don’t have a ton of experience with running quarterbacks this season, with Hurts easily the most dynamic they faced. Add in a better running game, a more experienced Hurts and the potential for rain on Sunday and the Eagles’ running game is a major advantage in this matchup they didn’t have in the first one.
Tackling: One of the main reasons the Eagles’ defense allowed 28 points in the first matchup was poor tackling. The Eagles missed nine tackles in the first game, one of their highest totals of the season, and just one short of their season high. The linebackers were the main culprit, with Alex Singleton missing a team-high four tackles. The good news for the Eagles is that their linebacking core will be much different this Sunday. To start, Eric Wilson isn’t even on the roster. Davion Taylor, who was struggling at the time, won’t be playing. Instead, T.J. Edwards, who has had a very strong second half of the season, should be getting the majority of the snaps at linebacker. An improvement in linebacker play is one of the top reasons to think the defense could be better on Sunday.
No Dallas Goedert, Lane Johnson:Both teams were missing some key players for the first matchup. The Eagles lined up without Dallas Goedert and Lane Johnson. Although the Eagles did have Zach Ertz at the time, not having Goedert was a major blow to their passing game, as the tight end has become arguably WR2 in the offense. Tampa Bay has struggled against tight ends this season, making the return of Goedert a big one for the Eagles. Johnson being back is not only important for the offensive line, but it is a huge boost in the running game, as it means Jordan Mailata can go back to left tackle (he played on the right side in the first game) and Andre Dillard can go back to the bench. Dillard is not a strong run blocker, so having Johnson and Mailata on the field should make the running game far more effective this time around.
Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski: The Buccaneers are getting one key piece back, but will play the Eagles this Sunday without two of their main weapons in the passing game that they had for the first matchup. The Buccaneers are now without Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin, who totaled 14 catches for 136 yards in the first game. Brown did the majority of the damage, bringing in 93 yards and a touchdown. Both receivers not playing in the game allows the Eagles to focus on Mike Evans, who they were able to shut down (2 catches, 27 yards) in the first matchup. The return of Gronkowski, who didn’t play last time, is big for the Buccaneers — but it might not outweigh the loss of two key weapons at receiver.
You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at email@example.com