The Philadelphia Eagles are underdogs heading into their Wildcard matchup with Tampa Bay, but that’s nothing new for the Birds. They rode that underdog mentality all the way to a Super Bowl victory in 2018. It’ll undoubtedly be much harder for this current Eagles team to pull off a similar miracle, but they certainly have a chance to upset Tom Brady in the first round.
The Eagles currently sit at 8.5-point dogs in this one. Covering the points shouldn’t be an issue, but how can they cover the money line and advance to the Divisional Round?
Here are three reasons the Eagles can upset Tampa Bay this weekend.
Dominance on the ground
This one is a no-brainer. Philly’s strength all season has been their ground attack, and contrary to popular belief, Tampa Bay is actually susceptible to the run.
Despite having an interior duo of Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea, they’ve given up -0.08 EPA per rush, which is bottom-five in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. They also like to play a lot of cover 2 shell in their secondary, running it about 43% of the time, the sixth-highest rate of any team in the league. With that many two-high looks, the Eagles should be able to run all day against this defense.
With linebacker Lavonte David’s availability still in question, Todd Bowles will have to scheme up some creative looks to throw at Philly’s ground game. If Tampa decides to stack the box, it’ll be up to Jalen Hurts to make quick reads and get the ball to his playmakers. But regardless, the Eagles have proven they can run against loaded boxes as well. Especially with the efficiency of their read option concepts, generating .115 EPA per option play. Hurts averages 6.1 yards per carry on such runs, the highest of any quarterback. And Miles Sanders averages a hair over five yards per carry on these runs.
The Eagles have a clear formula for success and no team has proven they can slow it down yet. Tampa may seem like they have the tools to stymie the ground game on paper, but the numbers say otherwise.
Depleted Tampa WR corps
Without Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin, Tampa’s passing attack has not been the same. Brady and Arians favored targeting the middle of the field heavily when they had their full complement of wideouts, but now they barely target the middle portion of the field 30% of the time. The Eagles have struggled in that part of the field, but they’ve excelled in limiting big plays on the outside.
Since Godwin’s injury, Tyler Johnson has taken the majority of snaps in the slot. During that time, Johnson has posted a pedestrian 58.8 receiving grade per PFF. Cyril Grayson and Breshad Perriman have split time on the outside with Brown gone, but they haven’t been able to replace AB’s production in the slightest.
Brady has done more with less throughout his career, so we shouldn’t completely discount Brady’s ability to get the most out of the guys around him. But it will still be an easier matchup for the Birds’ defense without two top-tier wideouts on the field.
Slowing down Leonard Fournette
All signs are pointing towards Leonard Fournette being back in the lineup for this Sunday’s contest. Fournette killed the Eagles in their first matchup back in October, racking up 127 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.
While the Eagles run defense struggled through the first half of the year, they’ve stepped up tremendously. From Week 8 to 17, Jonathan Gannon’s defense only surrendered one 100-yard rushing game. They’ve allowed just 81.3 rushing yards per game during that time.
Fournette has really had a career resurgence in Tampa Bay, and without Godwin or Brown, Fournette will be leaned on to create yardage for their offense. The Eagles have proven to be one of the best run defenses in the entire league as of late and it’ll need to continue against Fournette and Co. if they want to advance.