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Bucs vs Eagles: Five keys to victory

The Buccaneers defense will need to limit Nick Foles during Sunday’s tilt with the Philadelphia Eagles.

New England Patriots v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Tampa Bay shocked everyone in week one with its performance. The Buccaneers exploded on offense, defeating New Orleans, 48-40. Ryan Fitzpatrick was simply magical in the win, possibly playing his best game ever in his 13 years of professional football. The 35-year-old finished with 417 passing yards and four scores.

Though the defense as a whole didn’t look good against New Orleans, the defensive line looks like it could become formidable as the season continues. The Buccaneers need to get healthy across the front-four, if they do, watch out.

Tampa Bay enters the second of three games without starting quarterback Jameis Winston. It will be no easy task when the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, travel to Raymond James Stadium for the Bucs home opener.

1. Can Fitzpatrick stay hot?

Everyone has the same question as the Buccaneers prepare for the Eagles. Can Fitzpatrick stay hot?

While I don’t think we’re in for another 400+ yard performance, I expect Fitzpatrick to stay relatively consistent. Going against one of the top defenses in the league, the former Harvard star is once again going to need his receivers to make plays.

They were excellent at doing that a week ago as Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson combined for 293 yards and three touchdowns. Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries look like the perfect second fiddles to the duo of Evans and Jackson.

If Fitzpatrick can make plays against this Philadelphia defense, Tampa Bay will likely improve to 2-0 for the first time in eight years.

2. Bucs offensive line vs Eagles defensive line

The revamped offensive front was a highlight of this offense a week ago. Tampa Bay didn’t allow a sack and gave up just four tackles for loss all game.

That’s a far cry from where this unit was a year ago as the Buccaneers gave up 40 sacks in 2017. The Eagles have one of the top defensive fronts in the NFL, especially on the interior with Fletcher Cox and Haloti Ngata.

They sacked Matt Ryan four times in their season-opener and hit him a whopping 15 times. That’s exactly the kind of thing the Bucs can’t allow to happen to Fitzpatrick on Sunday.

I think the key aspect here is opening up the run game. If Tampa Bay can improve its success on the ground (112 yards on 31 carries in week one), they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

Likewise, if the Eagles shut it down, it could be a long Sunday.

3. Increasing pass-rushing success

The Bucs front-seven was excellent against New Orleans when it came to pressuring Drew Brees. Obviously, the future hall-of-famer lit up Tampa Bay regardless of that pressure.

In week two, I want to see the Buccaneers generate more success when it comes to rushing the quarterback. What exactly is success in this context? Sacks, quarterback hits, and tackles for loss.

Tampa Bay ranked dead LAST in the NFL in 2017 with just 22 total sacks. That’s simply awful and it’s one of the many reasons this defense has struggled.

The Buccaneers had one sack and five QB hits in week one, they’re going to need to up the ante against Philadelphia. That’ll be a little more complicated with Vita Vea out and Jason Pierre-Paul limited in practice.

4. Limiting the success of Nick Foles

Despite what he did a year ago after Carson Wentz tore his ACL, Nick Foles isn’t some prodigal savior. He got hot at the right time, but with Foles at the helm, Philadelphia is more beatable than they’d be if Wentz was back and healthy.

The former Arizona star finished just 19/34 for 117 yards and an interception a week ago. Missing top receiver Alshon Jeffery, the Eagles offense wasn’t very explosive against Atlanta. Foles longest pass went for 18 yards and the rushing attack wasn’t much better, its biggest play being a 21-yard scamper from Corey Clement.

Philadelphia doesn’t have an offensive player that can take over a game like Alvin Kamara or Michael Thomas. If Tampa Bay can make them earn every yard, Philadelphia will struggle.

The Buccaneers have to stayed glued to guys like Zach Ertz and Darren Sproles (if he’s available) in coverage to limit big plays, which is easier said than done.

5. Forcing three and outs

With Tampa Bay likely fielding a short-handed defense that’ll be without both starting cornerbacks against Philadelphia, it’s vital for them to get the Eagles off the field as fast as possible.

The weather is going to be a factor on Sunday afternoon. We know how Florida is. Hot, humid, and unforgiving. It’s the type of weather that can wear a team down, especially when they’re missing important players like Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves.

It doesn’t help with Vea out. And it’s not any better than JPP missed Wednesday’s practice and was limited Thursday.

Tampa Bay forced New Orleans into just two three and outs over 11 drives in week one. On the other side, Philadelphia had three three and outs over 11 drives in its win against Atlanta.

It all comes down to what’s highlighted above. If the Bucs can bring consistent pressure to make Foles uncomfortable and limit what his playmakers bring to the table to force them behind the chains, I like their odds on Sunday.