1. Balanced offense seems here to stay.
I'm again going to harp on the time of possession battle because I really do think it's one of the single-most important indicators of a win. This was another lopsided advantage for the Bucs as they retained the ball for 39:56 to Philadelphia's 20:04.
It was really lopsided early on. The Eagles' offense didn't even have the ball in the first quarter… and I'm not entirely exaggerating. They scored on their first possession of the game, which took 3:58 and then wouldn't get the ball again until there were 33 seconds left. It was because the Bucs put together back-to-back 75-yard drives, one that ate up 5:34 of clock and another that took 5:28, with both ending in scores. That's about as efficient as it gets.
Even outside linebacker Shaq Barrett said it was the quickest quarter ever, saying after the game that he felt like they were just watching the offense do work the entire quarter.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that the Bucs are emphasizing the run as of late. First downs are almost split down the middle this season, with Tampa Bay electing to pass 55% of the time and run the ball on first down 45% of the time. They now have over 100 yards on the ground in the last three games, all of which were wins and all of which came in the last 11 days, come to think of it.
It's gotten to the point where the Bucs don't have to 'establish the run' on a game-by-game basis and can open with an effective play action game, which is something brady excels at. In fact, according to the NFL's Next Gen Stats, Brady used play action on four of his six dropbacks on the Bucs' first drive of the game Thursday night and completed three of the four passes for 40 yards and a touchdown.
That being said, the Bucs ended up running the ball 31 times on Thursday night, though Brady still attempted 42 passes. Hey, the offense had the ball a lot, remember? Most of those 31 carries went to running back Leonard Fournette, who got the call 22 times. Two of those times were right on into the end zone. Fournette's one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter bumped up the Bucs' win probability to 98.4%, according to Next Gen Stats.
"He's a great back," Brady said of Fournette after the game. "He's big, tough, catches it, runs, blocks, does everything for us. [It's] great to have him in there. Obviously when he's rolling, it's tough to stop us."
And while Fournette deservedly gets a lot of the credit, the unsung heroes of the ground game effort are the Bucs' offensive line. Both of Fournette's touchdowns came with some major help from right tackle Tristan Wirfs. I think I could have gotten through the path bulldozed by Wirfs on Fournette's second touchdown. Wirfs also let us in this week on the line's preparation last week, saying that Brady has actually been meeting with the line and the backs every Friday to work on run-blocking schemes and making sure everyone is on the same page. It's clearly paying dividends on multiple levels and the Bucs should look to sustain what they've started.
2. The defense had a great plan for dealing with their first dual-threat quarterback of the season.
The Bucs did a great job taking away designed runs from quarterback Jalen Hurts, which is something he can usually excel at. By the middle of the second quarter, Tampa Bay had already tallied a couple tackles for loss on the Eagles' signal caller. They also took away designed runs by actual running backs too, save for a period in the fourth quarter with the game winding down, forcing Hurts to do what he could through the air most of the game or scramble to get as much as he could
"Yeah that's about all the offense they had," Arians said after the game. "They popped a couple runs late when we were playing pass-defense. Just him traveling, him getting out of the pocket, improvising. I liked the way we handled all the design plays, those improvised plays that are tough."
They allowed the Eagles just 213 yards of total offense. Hurts attempted 26 passes but completed just 12 of them all game, giving him a dismal 46% completion rate. In addition to his interception of Hurts, it was cornerback Jamel Dean that alone accounted for four pass breakups. Hurts gained 44 yards on the ground as he scrambled to move the chains as much as he could. Philadelphia had just 16 of those and had only eight entering the fourth quarter.
The Bucs defense seemed to be doing their best James Bond impression most of the game, deploying spies on Hurts to make sure he couldn't escape the pocket and burn them. And despite how elusive he can be, they managed two sacks on them and a total of seven quarterback hits. Hurts attempted eight passes under pressure and completed just two of them, while being intercepted once.
In the first three quarters, the Eagles managed just 99 yards of offense. They were gifted more penalty yards than actual yards of offense at that juncture, which brings me to my next point…
3. Penalties were only glaring issue.
For as textbook as a lot of that game was for the Buccaneers, those penalties sure weren't. Tampa Bay gifted the Eagles 95 yards on just two defensive pass interference penalties. That's an extreme case, of course, but the second DPI directly led to seven points, which allowed Philadelphia to climb back in the game, if only for a brief period of time. Overal, the Bucs committed seven penalties (again), for a total of 120 yards.
As bad as that seems, a lot of these penalties just come from aggressive play and very few are the dreaded pre-snap penalties that the Bucs really try to limit. Just two of the seven were pre-snap penalties, in fact. And at the end of the day, if this is the biggest issue Tampa Bay is dealing with right now, I trust that they'll be able to figure it out. The Bucs did it last season, morphing into one of the league's least penalized teams after Week Four. They could just be taking a bit more time this go around.