The Tampa Bay Buccaneers scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives when they faced the Philadelphia Eagles in a Week Six Thursday night game during the 2021 regular season. Notably, the Buccaneers did not commit a penalty, Tom Brady was not sacked and the Buccaneers faced only one third down on either drive. The Buccaneers never 'got behind the sticks,' as the coaching parlance goes, and that was critical to getting a fast start against a good Eagles' defense.
Brady knows that kind of clean play will once again be important when the Buccaneers and Eagles run it back on Sunday, this time with the two team's playoff lives on the line.
"They're a very good defense – they make you earn everything. You make a mistake, you get a penalty, you're going to punt. The ball gets batted up in the air, they're going to intercept it. You hold onto the ball too long, they're going to strip-sack it. It's a team that just doesn't let you off the hook, and I think they do a good job with their coverages, they show enough disguise. They're all covering for one another. There's really good communication – I can tell that. Really well-coached defense with a lot of good players. It makes it really tough for the offense to score."
The Eagles' defensive prowess starts up front, where the foursome of Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat get consistent pressure without blitzing, even if their overall sack total this year isn't overwhelming. Philadelphia has had a couple years of linebacker turnover and that continued early in 2021 before Eric Wilson was released and the team settled on the trio of T.J. Edwards, Alex Singleton and Genard Avery. And the secondary is loaded with heavily-experienced veterans such as Darius Slay, Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris. It adds up to a unit that allowed the 10th fewest yards and eighth-lowest yards-per-play average during the regular season. The Eagles also held seven of nine opponents from Halloween on to fewer than 19 points before playing their reserves in a 51-26 loss to Dallas last week.
"They have a lot of good players," said Brady. "They've obviously got a very good front. They're really settled in at linebacker, they're playing really well at linebacker. And they've got a very veteran secondary whose playing very well together. Talented players at all the positions."
Brady completed 34 of 42 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 102.1 in the Bucs' win in Philly in Week Six. He was intercepted once but he wasn't sacked and he guided the Buccaneers to a 28-7 third-quarter lead. Center Ryan Jensen suggested on Wednesday that the Bucs' offense didn't keep the pedal to the floor after getting that three-touchdown lead – the Eagles rallied back to make it a 28-22 final – which could be considered a strategic mistake, but they only committed two penalties on offense and mostly played an efficient game.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
It's obviously been a good year overall for Brady and the Bucs' offense, which led the NFL in passing yards and finished second in both net yards and points scored. Some weeks have been better than others and some halves have been better than others but the Buccaneers will need to be at their best on Sunday.
"Obviously, we've put ourselves in a decent position – now we're in the postseason and we've got to take care of a very tough opponent," said Brady. "I just love being out there with the guys. Let's see if we can beat a really tough Eagle team. This team's going to challenge us and I'm going to have to play good football."
Fortunately, if playing a clean game and avoiding mistakes through relentless preparation is a key for the Buccaneers on Sunday, they've got the right man leading the way.
"His attention to detail is, like, pinpoint," said wide receiver Breshad Perriman of Brady. "He wants things done a certain way, in terms of certain routes. It helps with that chemistry and it also makes a receiver better because you know exactly what your quarterback is thinking. Just his attention to detail, his leadership skills – we always do a meeting every week where it's just players and it's ran by him. I could go on and on about all the great things that he does that's different from anybody I've ever played with."
Even though he words hard to prepare for every game, Brady concedes that the urgency goes up in the playoffs. He wants the Buccaneers to feed off that and use it to drive them to their best performance.
"There's just a lot more excitement," he said. "There's fewer teams playing, there's more coverage and everyone's paying attention. You've got to feel it. You've got to feel the urgency and you've got to go out there and you've got to get the job done."