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By Connor Thomas

 

It’s official: the Philadelphia Eagles are playoff bound and they now know for sure who they will face in the NFC Wild Card round. It is certainly not the easiest draw. This might be news to some of you reading this, but Tom Brady is pretty good at this whole playoff football thing. Despite the Antonio Brown drama and some injuries that have popped up recently for Tampa, the Buccaneers still managed to win 13 games this season and easily lock up the NFC South. And yet, the Eagles are not totally dead in the water. They are currently 8.5 point dogs on the road in Tampa, but that’s not an impossible line to overcome. Here are 5 things that the Eagles can do this Sunday to give them a chance to knock off the defending Super Bowl champs:

  • 1.) RUN THE BALL

    Ok, so this one might be a little bit obvious, but it is the first step to success for the Eagles when it comes to any game the rest of the way. They are a running football team, and the best one in the NFL. If the Eagles are going to beat any team, including the Buccaneers, it will start with their rushing attack on offense. When the Eagles played Tampa Bay back in Week 6, they only ran the ball with running backs 9 times. Jalen Hurts rushed 10 times, for a combination as a team of 100 rushing yards. Hurts has had an outstanding season, but he is not ready yet to out duel Tom Brady in a shootout. The Eagles rushing attack is going to have to shoulder a huge load on Sunday, and be effective in doing so, if the birds want a chance to advance to a matchup with Green Bay in the NFC Divisional Round.

  • 2.) Get off to a hot start

    This next step lends to the Eagles ability to run the ball effectively throughout the game against Tampa Bay, and it’s coming out of the gates on fire down in Raymond James Stadium. Not only would a quick lead for the birds take some wind out of the Bucs fans (who give Tom Brady and company one of the best home field advantages in the NFL), but it would open up the opportunity for the Eagles to run the ball and play a little bit of keep away. If the Eagles start slow, like the have pretty much every game for the past month, they’ll have to bank on Jalen Hurts being able to out-pass Brady to keep pace in the game. That is a tall ask, and did not work at all in the matchup between these teams earlier this year. Early lead = opportunity to run the ball = chance to bleed clock = less opportunities for Brady. It’s simple football math folks.

  • 3.) Neutralize Mike Evans

    The Buccaneers have been a bit of a circus over the last couple weeks, thanks largely to the antics and exit from the team of one Antonio Brown. That, plus Chris Godwin being done for the season with a torn ACL, leaves Mike Evans as the only formidable receiver left on the Bucs roster. In fairness, Tom Brady has done much more with much less than what he has at his disposal currently in Tampa, but the fact that there is only one clear star receiver left makes the Eagles game plan that much simpler. The birds’ game plan should start with taking away Mike Evans as much as possible and forcing Brady and the Bucs to beat them by throwing to Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, or Cyril Grayson if he is healthy. Yes, Rob Gronkowski still exists, and that is another issue, but as far as outside targets to worry about on Sunday, if Jonathan Gannon can develop a scheme to take Evans away, the Eagles will have a chance.

  • 4.) Make the Bucs beat you on the ground

    Neutralizing Mike Evans is only part of the equation for defensive success on for the birds on Sunday. The Bucs passing game has been transcendent this year regardless of who has been out there. They are averaging 405.9 yards per game, the 2nd most in the NFL, and 307.6 of those average yards are in the air. That’s easily first in the league. The gap between them and the 2nd place team (the Cowboys) passing YPG wise is as big as the gap between the Cowboys and the 8th place team. Meanwhile, the Bucs only average 98.4 yards per game rushing, which ranks as the 26th best in the NFL. That is the biggest discrepancy between facets of the Buccaneers game on either side of the ball. It’s much easier said than done, but the Eagles need to force Tampa to run the ball as much as possible if they want the best chance to oust Brady and company. The upside for the birds is that Jonathan Gannon has been conservative this year in his scheme, which means the team should be comfortable with playing heavier coverage packages and allowing the Bucs to try and gain short yardage on the ground. Will they do it effectively? That’s the million dollar question, but it should absolutely be the goal come Sunday.

  • 5.) Put Tom Brady on his ass

    Tom Brady is a lot of things; mobile is not one of them. He only has 81 rushing yards on the year which puts him near the bottom of all QBs that have taken a snap this season. What that means is that if the pocket collapses, it makes his job significantly more difficult. If he gets put on his backside enough, Brady’s job becomes impossible. Jonathan Gannon has already shown that he is relatively blitz-averse, so I wouldn’t expect that to be the solution. That’s probably for the best considering Brady has picked blitzing defenses apart for about 20 years now. But Fletcher Cox, Josh Sweat, and company have to be absolute game wreckers come Sunday. If Brady gets time, the birds WILL LOSE THE GAME. If history is any indicator, one good pressuring attempt that results in… I don’t know, say a strip sack of Brady at a pivotal time in the game, could make all the difference in this one. Get to Brady, and the birds potentially get to the 2nd round.