One of the key matchups on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium is sure to be red-hot Philadelphia Eagles RB Bryce Brown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' NFL-leading rush defense. The Buccaneers, however, will have to make an adjustment before taking on that challenge.
DT Roy Miller, who has had a breakout season playing the 'tilted nose' position in Greg Schiano and Bill Sheridan's new defense, has been ruled out for Sunday's game due to a head injury that kept him out of two of the team's three practices this week. Gary Gibson will start in Miller's place and will be primarily responsible for occupying blockers and clogging up running lanes in the middle the way Miller has done so well this season.
The Bucs' defense is getting some help on the back end, however. Second-year CB Anthony Gaitor will make his 2012 regular-season debut after returning from the injured reserve list this week. He will have a significant role in the Buccaneers' defense.
"It's good to have Anthony back," said Schiano. "Anthony's going to play in our nickel position, and that's where he played in the preseason. As the year goes on, you forget – it seems like so long ago, the preseason, but Anthony hasn't played in a regular-season game. This is his first action in 2012, and I'm excited. He had a good week of preparation and he looks quick."
Brown has been something of a sensation since taking over injured superstar LeSean McCoy, racking up 353 yards and four touchdowns in the Eagles' last two games. He's not the only late-season rookie breakout in Philly's backfield – QB Nick Foles has similarly taken over for injured starter Michael Vick under center. The Eagles have confirmed that Foles will start the remainder of the season so they can evaluate him for 2013, and so far he has been making steady progress.
"Nick's done a very good job," said Schiano. "You can see him making improvement from tape to tape to tape, as the games progress. He's a big, strong-armed quarterback who seems to be very cool under pressure. And to be able to play as a rookie, that's what you need to be. In the Dallas game, he really did some really good things. He's a guy that's really on a fast ascension.
"And when you look at Bryce, he is a very, very talented running back. He's fast, he's big, he can get the corner at, whatever he is, 225 pounds. That's a rarity. He's a quality running back; he just happens to be a rookie."
In addition to Miller, the Buccaneers deactivated CBLeQuan Lewis, RB Michael Smith, LB Najee Goode, WR David Gilreath, WR David Douglas and DT Matthew Masifilo. Lewis is also out due to injury.
The Eagles seven inactive players are Vick, McCoy, WR Greg Salas, RB Chris Polk, S Kurt Coleman, T Matt Kopa and DT Mike Patterson. Vick, McCoy, Coleman and Patterson were out due to injury. Colt Anderson will start at free safety in Coleman's place.
Nearly every roster spot on both teams has changed since the memorable evening a decade ago when the Buccaneers and Eagles met in the NFC Championship Game in Veterans Stadium. The only remaining player from that game still active, then-cornerback and current safety Ronde Barber, returned a Donovan McNabb interception 92 yards for a touchdown to seal Tampa Bay's victory and send the Bucs to their first Super Bowl.
At halftime of Sunday's game, the Buccaneers will honor that Super Bowl championship team, which has reunited this weekend to celebrate its 10-eyar reunion. The current squad (including Barber) will be focused on the task at hand, but Schiano knows they'll be able to feel the excitement.
"Can't wait," said Schiano. "You couldn't have a better day for this reunion. It's beautiful, the guys are all back…it's a great thing. That's neat, the tradition of the Buccaneers and what's gone on here. I'm proud to be a small part of it."
The Bucs and Eagles will kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET. The game will be televised by FOX and will be broadcast on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will also be carried live on Buccaneers.com. Buccaneers.com will post a running blog of all the action on Sunday, and will also provide coverage of the team's postgame press conferences. In addition,video of the Super Bowl reunion halftime ceremony will stream live on Buccaneers.com.