The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Miami Dolphins by four touchdowns on Sunday afternoon, putting together their most complete game yet in 2021, and even finished early enough in the day to have a few hours available in the evening to savor the victory. And then Head Coach Bruce Arians immediately quashed that idea.
Speaking to his team in the locker room just after the game ended, Arians spent a few seconds congratulating the players on an "excellent job" and "dominating" from the middle of the third quarter on, and then told them to "put this one to bed." Arians said they would need to wait until next weekend to celebrate their Week Five win over the Dolphins.
That's the reality of a short week in the NFL, especially when your team is playing a road game on a Thursday night, as the Buccaneers will in Week Six against the Philadelphia Eagles. The relative lack of time to recover from one game and prepare for the next is shared by both teams, as the Eagles also played on Sunday afternoon, but travel shaves even a little more off that time. Before the Buccaneers can get to the game plan against Philadelphia, they'll have to follow a plan to beat the short week.
"Our strength staff does a really good job of making sure – like I just got done doing a bunch of recovery stuff in the weight room – they do a good job of making sure that we get the stuff that we need," said second-year tackle Tristan Wirfs, who at least has the advantage of youth on a roster loaded with 30-somethings. "For me, sleep is always a big thing throughout the whole year, but especially for a week like this. It was nice having a one o'clock game and being able to get a good night's rest. Coming in this morning and the rest of the week getting a good sleep. Staying hydrated too, after I was sweating like crazy yesterday. Sleep and hydration for me are always a big thing."
The Buccaneers (and undoubtedly the Eagles) will take it a little easier on their players this week, mostly replacing full-speed practices with walk-throughs. This will not be an easy week of preparation, however, on the mental side as Philadelphia's offense presents some different challenges that the Buccaneers haven't encountered much of this year. Mainly, the Eagles' second-year quarterback, Jalen Hurts, is a threat to make plays as much with his legs as with his arms, either on designed run-pass option plays or improvised scrambles. Hurts is the Eagles' leading rusher with 256 yards, more than any other quarterback other than Baltimore's Lamar Jackson.
Moreover, Philly doesn't rely on one or two players to be their primary movers of the ball, meaning the Buccaneers can't focus on shutting down a single threat. Seven different Eagles already have 13 or more catches, led by first-round rookie DeVonta Smith, with 25. The backfield features a pair of versatile backs who can help in the passing game in Miles Sanders and rookie Kenneth Gainwell. And the offensive line, after a 2020 season absolutely wrecked by injuries has had to work around a number of additional injuries early this season but is getting sound results overall. Standout center Jason Kelce contemplated retirement but chose to come back for another year to be a rock in the middle of that line. Philadelphia ranks fifth in yards per carry (5.2) and 13th in sacks allowed per pass attempt (5.46%).
As has been the case for many years, the Eagles' defense starts up front with a deep assortment of big men and pass-rushers. Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave is off to the best start of his career in his sixth season, with 6.0 sacks already but the Bucs certainly can't forget about veterans Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett. Veteran cornerback Darius Slay, acquired last year in a trade with Detroit, leads the way in the secondary but the Eagles also added a big name in free agency with former Vikings safety Anthony Harris. Overall, Philadelphia's defense has been much better stopping opposing aerial attacks (third in pass defense) than running backs (30th in rush defense).
The Bucs' return to prime time marks their third game under the lights already, and they'll be trying to go three-for-three in front of that national audience. The season opened with the Thursday night Kickoff Game win over Dallas, and the Bucs had the Sunday Night spotlight in Week Four at New England. Both of those games ended in two-point Tampa Bay victories on last-minute field goal drives. After struggling inexplicably in prime time games on their way to the playoffs last year, the Buccaneers are trying to show the whole country this season that they have a real shot at defending their Super Bowl LV title. The next test comes Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-3)
Thursday, October 14, 8:20 p.m. ET
Lincoln Financial Field (capacity: 69,879)
Television: FOX (Local WTVT Channel 13), Amazon Prime
FOX Broadcast Team: Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst), Erin Andrews (reporter), Kristina Pink (reporter)
Amazon Crew: Hannah Storm, Andrea Kremer
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (sideline)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
This will be the second straight game in this series that features the defending Super Bowl champs playing on the road against a team that had a sub-.500 record the season before. The Buccaneers will try to make sure the outcome in this one is both the same and different than the last meeting in 2018.
Two weeks into that 2018 season, the Eagles came to Raymond James Stadium after beating Tom Brady's Patriots, 41-33, in a thrilling Super Bowl LII shootout the previous February. The Buccaneers had finished that same 2017 season with a 5-11 record, though they had looked impressive in a 2018 opening-week, 48-40 win in New Orleans. The Buccaneers beat the Eagles, 27-21, with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing four touchdown passes, including a 75-yarder to former Eagle DeSean Jackson on the first play of the game. It would be the Eagles that went back to the playoffs that season, though, earning a Wild Card berth while the Bucs slumped to 5-11 and initiated a coaching change.
The Buccaneers obviously want a repeat win, which would also mean the defending champs didn't take one on the chin from a possibly feisty underdog.
A win would also allow Tampa Bay to even up the all-time series with one of the most significant rivals in franchise history. The Eagles led that series, 8-7, or 10-9 if playoffs are included. Tampa Bay has played more games in the postseason against Philadelphia than any other team and has split those four meetings down the middle.
Many of Tampa Bay's best moments in their head-to-head history with the Eagles have occurred in Philadelphia. There's the 2002 NFC Championship Game, of course, but the 2003 Monday Night Football season opener was a particularly satisfying win, as well. The Buccaneers were there in Philadelphia in 1999 when Donovan McNabb made his NFL debut, and they didn't exactly treat him well. Tampa Bay started its 1995 campaign by sacking Randall Cunningham five times and winning handily at Philadelphia; that was Warren Sapp's NFL debut and he had one of those five sacks. Even the Bucs' most recent trip to Philly, in 2015, was notable: At the time, the Bucs' 45-17 win over the Eagles was their highest-scoring road game ever.
The Bucs' biggest highlight in their series with the Eagles is unquestionably that aforementioned 2000 NFCC Game. The Buccaneers had seen their playoff dreams die at Veterans Stadium each of the previous two winters and had even lost in their personal house of horrors earlier in that '02 campaign. But the Bucs showed up ready to battle and overcome a long game-opening kickoff and a Philly touchdown just a minute into the game. Joe Jurevicius's unforgettable 71-yard catch-and-run began the turnaround, and the Bucs stymied McNabb for most of the night with two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception off the prolific quarterback. Down 20-10, the Eagles mounted a late rally behind McNabb's improvisational big plays and were closing in on the end zone with five minutes left. That's when Ronde Barber made perhaps the single greatest play in team annals, intercepting a short pass and returning it 92 yards for the game-sealing touchdown.
Four seasons later, Barber terrorized McNabb again with a pair of pick-sixes in a 23-21 win at Raymond James Stadium in 2006, the game that famously ended on Matt Bryant's 62-yard field goal. Until Mike Edwards pulled off the feat in Week Two of this season against Atlanta, Barber had been the only player in team history to have two interception-return touchdowns in the same game.
Tampa Bay's very first playoff game also featured the Eagles. After winning the NFC Central in 1979, just the franchise's fourth season of existence, the Bucs got a home game to start the playoffs and beat Philadelphia, 24-17. Ricky Bell set still-standing team records for carries (38) and rushing yards (142) in a playoff game.
- Tampa Bay General Manager Jason Licht had a five-year run in the Eagles' personnel department from 2003-07. He started out as the team's assistant director of player personnel but was promoted to vice president of player personnel for his final two seasons with the team.
- Todd Bowles, the Buccaneers' defensive coordinator, had a short stint in the same role for Philadelphia. After finishing the 2011 season as the Miami Dolphins' interim head coach following the in-season dismissal of Tony Sparano, Bowles joined the Eagles' staff in 2012 as the team's secondary coach. Another dismissal, this time of Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo in October, once again bumped Bowles' title up as he took over that job for the remainder of the season.
- Mike Caldwell, the Buccaneers' inside linebackers coach, spent time as an Eagle both as a player and a coach. His 11-year playing career included four seasons (1998-2001), during which he logged 62 games and 29 of his 49 career starts. Caldwell started a single-season best 16 games for the Eagles in 2011, leading to a career-high 101 tackles. Caldwell then started his coaching career by climbing up the ladder in Philly, first as a training camp intern in 2007, then as a defensive quality control coach for two years, an assistant linebackers coach for one more and finally as the linebackers coach in 2011-12.
- Buccaneers Specialists Coach and former NFL kicker Chris Boniol played two seasons for Philadelphia (1997-98).
- Alex Tanney, who started his coaching career this season as an offensive quality control coach for the Eagles, saw time with eight different NFL teams as a quarterback, most recently as a backup with the New York Giants. One of his stops was in Tampa, where he signed with the Bucs in May of 2014 but was released later that August.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
- Head Coach Bruce Arians
- Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
- Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
- Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
- Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
- Head Coach Nick Sirianni
- Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen
- Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon
- Special Teams Coordinator Michael Clay
KEY 2021 ROSTER ADDITIONS
- S Andrew Adams (FA)
- RB Giovani Bernard(FA)
- LB K.J. Britt (fifth-round draft pick)
- WR Jaelon Darden(fourth-round draft pick)
- CB Pierre Desir (FA)
- CB Dee Delaney (FA)
- OL Robert Hainsey (third-round draft pick)
- CB Richard Sherman(FA)
- QB Kyle Trask (second-round draft pick)
- OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (first-round draft pick)
- C Landon Dickerson (2nd-round draft pick)
- QB Joe Flacco (UFA)
- RB Kenneth Gainwell (5th-round draft pick)
- S Anthony Harris (UFA)
- Ryan Kerrigan (FA)
- CB Zech McPhearson (4th-round draft pick)
- QB Gardner Minshew (T-JAX)
- CB Steven Nelson (FA)
- CB Josiah Scott (T-JAX)
- P Arryn Siposs (FA)
- WR Devonta Smith (1st-round draft pick)
- DT Milton Williams (3rd-round draft pick)
- LB Eric Wilson (UFA)
ADDITIONAL 2021 CHANGES OF NOTE
- While "keeping the band" together on the field for a run at another championship, the Buccaneers also managed to keep their coaching staff almost entirely intact for 2021. The lone departure was Offensive Assistant Antwaan Randle El, who left to coach the receivers on Dan Campbell's staff in Detroit. There were two additions to Arians' staff: Offensive Assistant A.Q. Shipley and Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Thaddeus Lewis.
- Mike Greenberg, who provided invaluable help to Jason Licht in the efforts to keep the Bucs' Super Bowl-winning roster together as the team's director of football administration, was promoted during the offseason to vice president of football administration. Greenberg is entering his 12th year with the team.
- After playing their 2020 home schedule in front of audiences ranging from empty stands to about 25% capacity, the Buccaneers will be at full capacity at Raymond James Stadium in 2021. And we do mean full capacity. The defending champions have already sold out every home game this season; the last time every game at Raymond James Stadium sold out was in 2009.
- The Buccaneers introduced new uniforms in 2020 that were heavily influenced by the look the team had during its first Super Bowl era but also included a brand new alternate set with matching pewter jerseys and pants. That gave the team four combinations last season: pewter on pewter, white on white, white on pewter and red on pewter. The Bucs will use a fifth combination in 2021, with a red jersey over white pants, which they will wear in the Sunday Night Football spotlight at home against the Saints in Week 15.
- Veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown is not a new addition to the team in 2021 but he will have a chance to make a greater impact this season. Brown joined the Buccaneers at midseason last year and played in the last eight games of the regular season, recording 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns. He also appeared in three postseason contests and memorably scored a touchdown in Super Bowl LV. This time Brown will be an integral part of the offense from Day One, and he'll be moving more freely after having knee surgery in the offseason. From 2013-18, Brown averaged approximately 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 13 touchdowns per season.
- The Eagles made a change at the top in 2021, dismissing Head Coach Doug Pederson, who had led the team to its first Super Bowl championship after the 2017 season and additional playoff berths in 2018 and 2019. The Eagles decided to change directions after a 4-11-1 campaign in 2020 and turned to Nick Sirianni, who had been the Colts' offensive coordinator the previous three seasons. Upon announcing Sirianni's hiring, the team's website said he "wowed the eagles in the interview process with his energy, his intelligence, and his edge, sharing a vision with the team in an extensive meeting in Florida earlier this week." The site also referred to him as "a natural leader and communicator."
- With a new head coach comes a whole new staff, highlighted by Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon and Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen. Gannon followed Sirianni to Philadelphia from Indianapolis, where he had been the defensive backs coach for the previous three seasons. He was influenced earlier in his career by Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer but said he would install a scheme that fit the Eagles' personnel. He stresses the "HITS principle," which stands for hustle, intensity, takeaways and smartness. Steichen worked with Sirianni when both were assistants for the Chargers, and he took over as the Offensive Coordinator in Los Angeles last year, helping rookie QB Justin Herbert put together a monster debut season.
- After bringing in a new coaching staff, the Eagles then also made a very big decision at the most important spot on the roster, trading quarterback Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts on March 17. Philly got a 2020 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 second-round pick, which could turn into a first-rounder based on how much playing time Wentz gets in Indianapolis. They also got some clarity at quarterback, at least for the near future, with 2020 second-round pick Jalen Hurts getting the reins to the offense. The Eagles completed the overhaul of their QB room by signing Joe Flacco and trading for Gardner Minshew.
- The 12-year tenure of left tackle Jason Peters in Philadelphia, which included seven Pro Bowl appearances, ended at the end of 2020 after several injury-marred seasons. Peters became a free agent in March and the Eagles did not pursue his return; he eventually signed with the Bears in the middle of training camp.
- Philadelphia also moved on from receivers DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery, as both receivers were released early in the offseason. The team then used its first-round pick on Alabama wideout DeVonta Smith.
What Will Come to Pass? – When the Buccaneers' passing attack gets into a groove and starts making the most out of all of its extreme pass-catching weapons, it can seem almost impossible to stop. That theory will be put to the test on Thursday night, however. Tampa Bay will bring the NFL's top-ranked passing attack into Philadelphia to kick off Week Six with a matchup against the league's third-ranked pass defense. The Buccaneers are averaging 349.4 net passing yards a game, which if maintained would break the Denver Broncos' all-time record of 340.3 per game in 2013. Tom Brady leads the league in passing yards and is second in touchdown passes and he just set a franchise record by extending his streak of passes without an interception to 203. His three top receivers – Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown – are all on pace to surpass 1,000 yards this season, and with all three of them on the field it's a no-win proposition for a defense trying to decide which one to give extra coverage. All of that said, the Eagles are only allowing 194.8 passing yards per game (third) and 6.16 yards per pass play (fourth). And they have come across those rankings honestly, having already faced Kansas City, Dallas, Carolina and Atlanta, all teams that rank among the top 14 in the league in passing yards. Darius Slay is a heady playmaker who already has two interceptions this season and the Eagles don't stress their secondary with a high amount of blitzes. With Javon Hargrave and his six sacks -most among NFL interior linemen – leading a fierce front four, the Eagles have only blitzed on 14.6% of their defensive snaps, the lowest mark in the league. And yet they still rank third in the NFL with a pressure rate of 34.3%.
Hurts to Think About It – As noted above, the Buccaneers face a different sort of quarterback challenge this week. In their last two wins, the Bucs have gone up against one relatively immobile rookie in New England's Mac Jones, and a Dolphins quarterback in Jacoby Brissett who spent much of the game gritting through a hamstring injury. Their opponents in Weeks One-Three were all essentially pocket passers – Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford. Now they'll take their shot at Philly's Jalen Hurts, who is one of the best running quarterbacks in the league. Kevin Minter, who will likely be filling in for the injured Lavonte David this week, said the Buccaneers have to prepare for expected RPOs and zone-reads, which they have seen very little of so far this season. Defensive lineman Vita Vea, whose Washington Huskies lost to a Hurts-led Alabama squad in the 2016 Peach Bowl, remembers how a quarterback of that variety can cause significant problems. "Any time you face a mobile quarterback it places a threat against you because you know he can extend plays with his feet. I played against him in college and he hurt us a lot with his mobility and his arm, so it will be a tough challenge this week going against a guy like Jalen Hurts that is really mobile and who also can throw the ball." Hurts not only leads the Eagles in rushing, as mentioned earlier, and is second in rushes with 43, but he has also accounted for three of Philadelphia's five rushing touchdowns so far. Hurts is an explosive runner; according to NFL Next Gen Stats after Week Three of this season, he had reached 15+ miles per hour on 62.5% of his career runs, and twice this season he's maxed out above 20 miles per hour. The Buccaneers have the NFL's best run defense for the third year in a row but Hurts could render their extra-strong interior moot if he can effectively get around the edge multiple times.
Missing in the Middle – Perhaps the most concerning name on the Buccaneers' Week Six injury report is Tom Brady, who hurt the thumb on his throwing hand early in Sunday's win over Miami but was able to play through it. Barring a setback, though, it would be surprising if Brady is unable to go in Philadelphia. On the other hand, the Buccaneers appear to be preparing for the absence of linebacker Lavonte David, the team's long-running captain who suffered an ankle injury in the same game. Veteran Kevin Minter is an able backup who has proved himself time and time again in such situations, but there is little doubt that a defense already hit hard by injuries will miss David for however long he is sidelined. This is just the latest defensive injury the Bucs have had to work around – and they are not alone in such troubles as several teams around the league have recently been stung by a rash of injuries – and at some point the combined stress could start to cause some cracks. Tampa Bay played last Sunday's game with 75% of their starting secondary out of commission and don't expect to get cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting back on the field anytime soon. Safety Antoine Winfield might be able to make it back from a concussion that kept him out of the Miami game, though the short week doesn't help. With the Buccaneers trying to integrate such newcomers as Richard Sherman and Pierre Desir into the defense, it helps to have veteran communicators who can keep everyone on the same page. David obviously fits that ball and will be missed for that reason, beyond just the production he steadily provides.
Midseason Lenny – Leonard Fournette's star turn in the postseason last year earned him the nickname of "Playoff Lenny," which further morphed into "Lombardi Lenny" when he played a big role in the Super Bowl LV victory. It doesn't quite roll of the tongue as well, but perhaps Fournette should know get the moniker, "Midseason Run Game Resuscitating Lenny." The Buccaneers had little success on the ground in their first three games but still won two of them thanks to their often unstoppable passing attack. However, over the last two weeks the team has started to find some of the offensive balance that Bruce Arians clearly wants. Not only did Fournette run for 91 yards in New England and another 67 on Sunday against the Dolphins, but his high success rate of four-plus-yard carriers has added bite to the Bucs' play-action game, which they used to great effect this past Sunday. Fournette has clearly taken over the lead role in the backfield, even with Ronald Jones doing good things with his more limited touches, and that's in part because he's been getting better and better as a weapon in the passing attack. His last two yards-from scrimmage totals against the Patriots and Dolphins: 138 and 110. Of course, Arians wants some of the credit to be shared with the men paving the way. "I think the blocking unit has been doing a very, very good job. You're not going to run the ball if your tight ends aren't blocking. They did a heck of a job. Josh Wells comes in and plays tight end for us some, and that's big. Again, it's just the backs finding the holes – the holes are there. We actually left some runs out there [against Miami' that could've been bigger. But yeah, the running game is where it all starts for us because you have to keep them in two dimensions defensively so that they can't just tee off on the passer."
Quest for NFC Supremacy – The quick turnaround of a Thursday night game is tough but there is a reward on the other side. Not only will the Buccaneers enjoy something of a "mini-bye" before Week Seven, but they'll be able to sit back and watch how the NFC playoff chase unfolds for the rest of Week Six. The conference is a bit top-heavy in the early going with five teams, including the Buccaneers, at 4-1 or better. That includes three teams widely expected to challenge for the NFC title in the Bucs, Green Bay and the L.A. Rams, and a couple of early-season surprises riding offensive juggernauts in Arizona and Dallas. With all those teams off to such good starts and not likely to fade thanks to their high-octane offenses, it will probably be a crowded race at the end and every game along the way is going to count. If the Buccaneers can get their fifth win on Thursday night, they'll be able to relax for a bit and potentially find themselves tied for the conference's top spot by the end of the weekend. The undefeated Cardinals appear to have the toughest challenge with a visit to Cleveland to face the talented, 3-2 Browns. But Green Bay and Dallas could get tested on the road at Chicago and New England, respectively, and even the Rams have to make the dreaded cross-country trip to face the Giants.
1. Eagles G Landon Dickerson vs. Buccaneers DL Vita Vea
Vea is the 2021 darling of every Twitter analyst crunching game tape this season. His slight stat line belies the enormous impact he is having on the Bucs' defense, as he often clears the way for his teammates by demolishing portions of the opposing blocking front. Vea did have his first half-sack on Sunday against Miami, and while he says he does enjoy creating opportunities for the Bucs' other rushers he is still very hungry for his first full sack of the season. Vea is the nose tackle in the Buccaneers' base defense but his NFL Next Gen Stats pre-snap location heat chart shows him getting plenty of snaps at locations all along the interior line. (He's had a handful of entertaining rushes off the edges, too, because Todd Bowles is a mad genius.) In three of the Bucs' five games so far, Vea has finished with the smallest average separation from the quarterback at the time of the throw, in each of those instances finishing at 3.66 yards or less. The NFL average is 4.52 yards of separation. The Eagles drafted Dickerson 37th overall out of Alabama in April, and while they didn't throw him right into the fire it didn't take long for his feet to hit the coals. After right guard Brandon Brooks landed on injured reserve with a torn pec, the rookie got his first start at right guard in Week Three. Then left guard Isaac Seumalo was lost for the season in Week Three with a Lisfranc foot injury and Dickerson moved over to that spot. The Eagles have also been without tackle Jordan Mailata for three weeks with a knee injury and tackle Lane Johnson is away from the team indefinitely while dealing with a personal matter. All of this makes the versatile Dickerson a key player on that line going forward. Dickerson is very technically sound and he presents a wide target to match up with the 350-pound Vea. He's got good hands, too, but will have to prove he's strong enough to anchor against Vea's deadly bull-rushes.
2. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Eagles CB Steven Nelson
The Eagles have the NFL's third-ranked pass defense, as noted earlier, but they are not quite so highly ranked by Football Outsider's DVOA system, where they stand 22nd. Surprisingly, the Eagles' biggest issues have been covering the opponents' number-one receiver. They have allowed 88.8 yards per game to whichever player for the other team has gotten that designation each week. As an example, the Chiefs' Tyreek Hill got them for 11 catches, 186 yards and three touchdowns in Week Four and San Francisco's Deebo Samuel had six catches for 93 yards in Week Two. Though the Bucs have several candidates for that number-one receiver designation, opponents still seem to treat Evans as the top threat. The Eagles are not likely to shadow Evans with their top corner, Darius Slay, as they have largely kept Slay at left corner and Nelson at right corner regardless of opponent this year. Evans lines up on both sides, of course, but has spent more time split wide to the left (119 snaps) than to the right (67 snaps). That should set up a number of battles between Evans and Nelson, who the Eagles signed in July after he was let go by the Steelers in March. Philadelphia had a clear need at cornerback after not addressing the spot early in the draft, and Nelson was the 36th-highest graded corner by Pro Football Reference in 2020. He has one interception and three passes defensed so far as an Eagle. On Thursday, he'll have to deal with Evans, who often lines up isolated on one side of the offense while the Buccaneers employ a bunch on the other side. Over the past two seasons, Evans has scored nine touchdowns when aligned in this way, the most of any player in the NFL.
3. Eagles RBs Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell vs. Buccaneers LB Kevin Minter
Once again, Minter has some big shoes to fill, as the Buccaneers will try to keep the middle of their defense strong during the absence of Lavonte David due to an ankle injury. Minter has proved quite capable of stepping into the starting lineup before, as he did for three games in 2019 and two last year (including the playoffs). In both cases, however, he was filling in for Devin White. What the Bucs lose in David's absence is one of the NFL's best coverage linebackers, and that could be a critical factor on Thursday night. The Eagles like to throw the ball to their running backs almost more than they like to hand it off, with Sanders and Gainwell combining for 30 catches, or an average of six per game. The Bucs' defense had a fine overall game in Sunday's win over Miami but did give up 10 catches for 74 yards and two touchdowns to running back Myles Gaskin. Minter knows that will be a focal point for the Bucs' defense this week. "Just be a little bit better at coverage on the running backs," he said. "It sounds simple, but it can be fairly challenging with talented running backs like that. At the same time, we have to get it done, whether it be switching up coverages or just being a little bit better with technique." Minter has shown some aptitude as a cover man in his brief stretches as a starter for the Buccaneers; he had a pass defensed in four of those five starts he made in White's place. Sanders has been a productive pass-catcher for Philly since arriving as a second-round pick in 2019, starting with his 50 catches as a rookie. Gainwell was a fifth-round pick this year who put up big numbers as a pass-catcher at Memphis.
4. Buccaneers T Tristan Wirfs vs. Eagles DE Josh Sweat
In Week Five of the 2020 season, Wirfs' first in the NFL, he gave up a sack to Chicago's dynamic edge rusher, Khalil Mack. As it would turn out, that would be the only sack he was credited with allowing during the regular season, and so far in 2021 he has pitched a shutout in the same category. That's quite a run but it will be tested this Thursday by Sweat. Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave is the Eagles' most ferocious pass-rusher this year and both Fletcher Cox and right end Derek Barnett have proven track records, but the Buccaneers shouldn't assume that Sweat is the least of the Eagles' threats up front. He is second on the team behind Hargrave with 1.5 sacks and has been credited with four quarterback hits. Sweat has excellent burst off the edge, as NFL Next Gen Stats say that he has had an average get-off at the snap of 0.86 seconds this season. That's the exact same get-off speed that Von Miller has displayed this year, and it's just a tick behind the 0.85-second average that Joey Bosa has been clocked with. The Buccaneers' blocking scheme may have to pay extra attention to stopping Hargrave in the middle, which should create a number of one-on-one rush situations for Sweat, who has seen the majority of his snaps at left end, outside the right tackle. Wirfs has shown that he can handle speed-rushers around the end, of course, and he's got nimble feet and quickness of his own to keep defenders from quickly bending around him and getting a straight line to the quarterback.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
- RB Giovani Bernard (knee/chest) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WED: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- QB Tom Brady (right thumb) – MON: LP; TUES: LP; WED: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- WR Antonio Brown (knee) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WED: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- LB Lavonte David (ankle) – MON: DNP; TUES: DNP; WED: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- CB Jamel Dean (knee) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WED: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- WR Chris Godwin (knee/ankle) – MON: LP; TUES: LP; WED: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- TE Rob Gronkowski (ribs) – MON: DNP; TUES: DNP; WED: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- C Ryan Jensen (hip) – MON: DNP; TUES: LP; WED: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
- DL Patrick O'Connor (calf) – MON: LP; TUES: FP; WED: FP. Game Status: Questionable:
- OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder/hand) – MON: LP; TUES: LP; WED: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
- K Ryan Succop (back) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WED: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- S Antoine Winfield, Jr. (concussion) – MON: LP; TUES: LP; WED: LP. Game Status: Out.
- DE Derek Barnett (ankle) – MON: DNP; TUES: LP; WED: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- G Landon Dickerson (ankle) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WED: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- TE Dallas Goedert (illness) – MON: DNP; TUES: Placed on reserve/COVID-19 list.
- T Lane Johnson (not injury related) – MON: DNP; TUES: DNP; WED: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- C Jason Kelce (foot/rest) – MON: DNP; TUES: LP; WED: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- T Jordan Mailata (knee) – MON: LP; TUES: FP; WED: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
High of 79, evening low of 60, 7% chance of rain, 81% humidity, winds out of the NNW at 4 mph.
Head referee: Clay Martin (7th season, 4th as referee)
- Favorite: Buccaneers (-7.0)
- Over/Under: 51.5
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
- Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 41
- Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans/TE Rob Gronkowski, 4
- Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 1,767
- Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 108.5
- Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 251
- Receptions: WR Mike Evans/Chris Godwin, 29
- Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 393
- Interceptions: S Mike Edwards, 2
- Sacks: OLB Shaquil Barrett, 3.5
- Tackles: LB Devin White, 36
- Points Scored: K Jake Elliott, 31
- Touchdowns: QB Jalen Hurts, 3
- Passing Yards: QB Jalen Hurts, 1,365
- Passer Rating: QB Jalen Hurts, 93.3
- Rushing Yards: QB Jalen Hurts, 256
- Receptions: WR DeVonta Smith, 25
- Receiving Yards: WR DeVonta Smith, 314
- Interceptions: CB Darius Slay, 2
- Sacks: DT Javon Hargrave, 6.0
- Tackles: LB Alex Singleton, 50
TEAM STAT RANKINGS (2020 end of season)
- Scoring Offense: 3rd (33.4 ppg)
- Total Offense: 3rd (431.4 ypg)
- Passing Offense: 1st (349.4 ypg)
- Rushing Offense: 26th (82.0 ypg)
- First Downs Per Game: t-3rd (25.4)
- Third-Down Pct.: 5th (48.5%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 6th (3.95%)
- Red Zone TD Pct.: t-14th (62.5%)
- Scoring Defense: 20th (24.4 ppg)
- Total Defense: 15th (360.2 ypg)
- Passing Defense: 32nd (314.4 ypg)
- Rushing Defense: 1st (45.8 ypg)
- First Downs Allowed Per Game: 19th (21.6)
- Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 28th (46.3%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 29th (4.44%)
- Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 14th (58.8%)
- Turnover Margin: t-6th (+3)
- Scoring Offense: 18th (23.0 ppg)
- Total Offense: 14th (372.6 ypg)
- Passing Offense: 12th (256.2 ypg)
- Rushing Offense: 13th (116.4 ypg)
- First Downs Per Game: 22nd (19.8)
- Third-Down Pct.: t-15th (40.3%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 13th (5.46%)
- Red Zone TD Pct.: 11th (64.7%)
- Scoring Defense: 22nd (24.8 ppg)
- Total Defense: 9th (336.8 ypg)
- Passing Defense: 4th (194.8 ypg)
- Rushing Defense: 30th (142.0 ypg)
- First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-26th (23.4)
- Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 25th (44.6%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 12th (6.96%)
- Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 25th (75.0%)
- Turnover Margin: t-12th (+1)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- WR Chris Godwin needs a pair of sevens on Thursday night. Seven more catches would put him at 280 on his career and move him past Jimmie Giles for the ninth most in Buccaneers history. If his first catch happens to be at least seven yards, he'll also move up a spot on the team's all-time receiving yardage list. He's at 3,906 right now and just above him is Joey Galloway with 3,912.
- If Rob Gronkowski is able to return to action on Thursday, he'll have a shot at moving up a spot on two prominent NFL charts. If he gets 71 receiving yards, he will pass Greg Olsen (8,683) for the fifth-most yards by a tight end in league history. And just one more touchdown catch would put him in a tie for 11th all time with Isaac Bruce (91).
- Tom Brady brings an active streak of 203 consecutive passes without an interception into the Thursday night game. That is already a team record but if he extends it through Week Six and the Buccaneers also don't lose a fumble it will mark the first time in franchise history that the team strung together four consecutive games without a turnover.
- Brady also needs just one more game with four-plus touchdown passes to tie for the most ever in that category. Drew Brees currently has him by one, 37-36.
- After scoring 12 points on two fourth-quarter touchdown catches in the Bucs' Week Five win over Miami, Mike Evans now has 404 career points, good for seventh place on the team's all-time list. Another game like that would allow him to catch a share of sixth place, as kicker Donald Igwebuike is just 12 points ahead of him at 416.
- OLB Shaquil Barrett pushed his sack total since 2019, when he first signed with the Buccaneers, to 31.0 with a 1.5-sack game against the Dolphins. He is now just two behind Brad Culpepper (33.0) for seventh place on the Bucs' all-time sack list.
- Head Coach Bruce Arians on if it will be important to slow down Philadelphia's running backs in the passing game: "Well yeah, every week. [Miles] Sanders is a hell of a back, running and catching. We blew a coverage last week and hopefully we have that corrected now. They've got great weapons – receivers, tight ends backs, and Jalen is playing really, really well right now."
- WR Mike Evans on the Bucs having three receivers on pace for more than 1,000 yards: "t's great. Obviously for football purposes, but [also] just for the locker room. We all get along. We have different personalities, but we all mesh well together, and that's not just us three – that's our whole team. We have a lot of different personalities on this team, but everybody seems to get along and we understand the goal."
- ILB Kevin Minter on having to step up for an injured Lavonte David: " just prepare like I always do. I've been in this role before, obviously having to fill in for Devin [White] or Lavonte in some type of capacity in the past. It's business as usual. It's football, things happen. You just prepare for the next opponent and however it plays out, it plays out. Every week I've got to prepare like I'm the starter. You never know what can happen in a game. This is ball – anybody can get hurt, anything can happen. Just that coach's motto, 'Next man up.' The preparation is the same – maybe a bit more focused, but at the same time, I've got to continue doing what I'm doing."
- T Tristan Wirfs on how players can prepare for a game on a short week: "Our strength staff does a really good job of making sure – like I just got done doing a bunch of recovery stuff in the weight room – they do a good job of making sure that we get the stuff that we need. For me, sleep is always a big thing throughout the whole year, but especially for a week like this. It was nice having a one o'clock game and being able to get a good night's rest. Coming in this morning and the rest of the week getting a good sleep. Staying hydrated too, after I was sweating like crazy yesterday. Sleep and hydration for me are always a big thing."
- OLB Jason Pierre-Paul on trying to contain Eagles QB Jalen Hurts in the run game: "I think any time you get a running quarterback, you've just got to do what is best – just rush the passer. You beat guys by rushing the passer and keeping him in the pocket. As you can see, we did that last year in the final game, so we don't really have too [many] concerns. We just know that he's a running quarterback and he will extend plays, but we can do a good job of holding him in the pocket hopefully."
- DL Vita Vea on the Bucs' defense showing improvement in the last two games: "Just the coaching points we've been getting from week to week. The point of emphasis has always been stopping the run first, so we can play pass. Everybody wants to get sacks, but we have to stop the run first. That's been a big point of emphasis for us throughout the week each week that we've been through. Just try to work on our fundamentals in the run game and learn the defense of what gaps we need to be in and where we need to be every play to basically help us be in the best position possible to make plays and to try and stop the run."