As the Buccaneers continue to prepare for their playoff game against the Eagles, many feel that Tampa Bay will easily send them back to Philadelphia with a loss. While there are many signs that certainly point in that direction, Buccaneers players and coaches know that this is the National Football League after all. No game should be taken lightly.
Especially in the playoffs.
The Bucs may in fact take care of business on Sunday. However, the Eagles 9-8 regular season record doesn’t tell the whole story. Let’s take a look at both sides of the ball and see where exactly each team has the edge over the other as we statistically break down the positions for both the Buccaneers and Eagles.
Quarterbacks - The Eagles were the 25th passing offense in the league in the regular season. Jalen Hurts threw for 3,144 yards, 16 touchdowns, and nine interceptions with a 61.3-percent completion percentage. he added another 10 touchdowns and 784 yards on the ground, but we’ll get to that a bit later.
The Buccaneers have some guy named Tom Brady. Many are probably wondering who that is. The future Hall of Famer has undoubtedly carried the Buccaneers offense, setting records in the process — both team and league records. Brady finished 2021 with 5,316 yards passing, 43 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions with a 67.5-percent completion percentage.
Running Backs - Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders can give the opposition some headaches. The young, shifty runner rushed for 754 yards in 12 games last season, averaging 5.5 yards a carry. He was targeted 34 times out of the backfield in 2021 and hauled in 26 receptions for 158 yards. He totaled 912 scrimmage yards, but did not record a touchdown. That side of the coin came from running back Boston Scott who ran for 373 yards and seven touchdowns. However, the Eagles running game benefited from the legs of Hurts. As previously stated, his 784 yards were not just big chunks of yards for a quarterback (second overall in the league), but allowed Philadelphia’s run game to be the top running offense in the NFL.
Not much of the same can be said entirely for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay had the 26th ranked run game in the league. Their running back by committee approach featured Leonard Fournette, who has run the ball well since last season’s playoffs. He ran for 812 yards on 180 carries and eight touchdowns. Fournette contributed in the passing game with 454 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Ronald Jones II added another 428 yards and four touchdowns.
Wide Receivers - Rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith led the Eagles in all statistical categories — targets (104), receptions (64), yards (916), and touchdowns (5). The 2021 10th overall pick was a featured piece in the Eagles offense and one of Hurts’ favorite targets — perhaps because that was his only one. Other young receiver Quez Watkins was targeted 62 times for 43 receptions but just one touchdown. Outside of those two, Jalen Reagor and JJ Arcega-Whiteside disappointed with 35 receptions between the two (33 by Reagor) and 335 yards with no touchdowns. Philadelphia’s depth at receiver lacks tremendously and many pundits are calling for Eagles to target a receiver in the first round of the draft or try to sign a big name free agent this offseason.
Tampa Bay doesn’t have problems like that at the position. Wide receiver Chris Godwin led the team in targets (127), receptions (98), and yards (1,103) before being done for the season with a torn ACL. And that was three weeks ago. Veteran Mike Evans hauled in 74 catches for 1,035 yards and 14 touchdowns. Antonio Brown, who decided to quit on the team in the middle of the game against the Jets two weeks ago, appeared in seven games this season and added 42 receptions for 545 yards and four touchdowns. But the Buccaneers will be without Godwin and Brown for the postseason. Fortunately for them, they have depth at the position. Guys like Tyler Johnson, Breshad Perriman, and Scotty Miller will all play big roles — and have done so before — in the passing game.
If we account for tight ends in this category, the Buccaneers have the edge as well due to their depth. Rob Gronkowski and contributed in big ways while OJ Howard was factored in from time to time throughout the regular season, too. The trio have accounted for 11 of the offense’s touchdowns in 2021 — Gronkowski with six, Brate with four, and Howard with one.
Offensive Line - Philadelphia’s offensive line is anchored by veteran Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce. Tackles Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata have done well holding off outside pressure and guards Nate Herbig and Landon Dickerson have all been instrumental at propelling the Eagles to the top in rushing. Hurts was sacked 26 times, but was known for holding on to the football for too long at times.
The Bucs offensive line has been stout, too. Despite the run game not being anywhere near the top of league rankings, Tampa Bay’s offensive line has done well in pass protection and at the second level. Tackles Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs do a great job keeping EDGE rushers at bay, while the interior of the line anchored by Ryan Jensen alongside guards Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa do well against inside linemen and blitzing backers. Tom Brady was sacked 22 times in 2021 — lowest in the league.
Secondary - Philadelphia has a Pro Bowl cornerback by the name of Darius Slay that is part of a defensive secondary that was 11th in the league in yards given up. However, They’ve given up 28 passing touchdowns to opponents, which ranked 20th in the league. They’ve also allowed a passer rating of 95.4 which was 23rd in the NFL.
For the Buccaneers, the secondary was plagued all season long. Coming into the postseason, the Bucs were 21st in the league in passing yards given up and 13th in the league for passing touchdowns given up with 26. But on the bight side, they’ve only allowed an 85.6 passer rating — eight best in the league.
Linebackers - Philadelphia’s group of linebackers are perhaps the weakest unit on the defensive side of the ball. Alex Singleton led all tacklers with 81 solo tackles in the eight games he started this season. T.J. Edwards started in 14 games but had 64 solo tackles, and Genard Avery had 21 solo tackles in 12 starts. Tampa Bay was without Gronkowski when the two teams faced each other earlier in the season and Brate and Howard had success against the Eagles linebackers. It’ll be interesting to see how they scheme against the Buccaneers tight ends with Gronkowski in the mix.
Tampa Bay should see the return of veteran linebacker Lavonte David for this game. David is instrumental against reading the opposing offenses backfield and with Hurts’ ability to scramble, this return is big for the Bucs. Outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are also slated to return for Tampa Bay this week. The three accounted for 15 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Devin White, albeit a rather quiet season, has contributed with 3.5 sacks and 8 tackles for loss.
Defensive Line - The Eagles defensive line is rather stout in that they have been able to get to the quarterback often throughout the season. Led by guys like Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat, and Fletcher Cox, the three made up 18.5 of the 29 sacks for Philadelphia in the 2021 regular season.
Anchored by Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea, the Buccaneers defensive front has been excellent in stopping the run. Despite a dropoff in yards given up in the final few weeks of the season, Tampa Bay still finished 2021 as one of the top defenses against the run, finishing third overall in the NFL.
Kicking - Punters and kickers are people too. So with that said, we will say that no matter the name everyone does well putting toe to leather on both teams. But we’ll briefly look at the stats here.
Philadelphia’s Jake Elliot has a field goal percentage of 91-percent on 33 attempts and a touchback percentage of 63.5-percent on kickoffs. He is 100-percent on extra points. Punter Arryn Siposs has a yards per punt average of 43.9 with the longest of 68.
Buccaneers punter Bradley Pinion has a yards per punt average of 42.5 with a longest punt of 65 yards. On kickoffs, Pinion has a touchback average of 79.8-percent. Kicker Ryan Succop has a field goal percentage of 83.3-percent on 30 attempts and an extra point average of 94.9-percent.
Returners - As a team, the Eagles collectively average 18.5 yards per kick return and 7.2 yards per punt return. Wide receiver Jalen Reagor is the primary returner, averaging 21.3 yards on kickoffs and 7.3 on punts.
Tampa Bay has an average of 19.7 yards per kick return and 7.1 yards per punt return. Rookie wide receiver Jaelon Darden has handled the bulk of the returns, averaging 7.5 yards on punt returns and 19.9 yards on kickoff returns.
There are spots on the field where one could argue the Eagles excel more than the Buccaneers. Philadelphia’s run game is tops in the league and their defensive front is among the best, too. But overall, as the Buccaneers look to face off in this weekend’s Wild Card matchup, the overall edge goes to Tampa Bay.