Six Points: Buccaneers vs. Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) this Sunday in a game between two teams struggling to find consistency in 2015.
The Eagles have a golden opportunity to grab a share of first place in the NFC East with a win, but they'll most likely have to do it with backup quarterback Mark Sanchez. Starter Sam Bradford is still in the NFL's concussion protocol, and he has missed all practices through Thursday. Sanchez started eight games for the Eagles in 2014, and althoug he moved the offense, he committed too many turnovers.
The Buccaneers are looking to string together a winning streak -- the NFC South division title might be out of a reach, but a wildcard spot in the postseason is in play. The new pieces on defense are finally starting to get comfortable within Lovie Smith's scheme and in the last two weeks they have held the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys offenses in check.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Buccaneers and Eagles.
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1. Time for the Mike Evans show
Mike Evans has caught 16 total passes over the past two games, and now he's going up against a Philadelphia secondary which has allowed 138 receptions this year to opposing wide receivers. Evans and Jameis Winston should be locked in for this one, and with the Eagles having a solid run defense, there's no reason to believe Evans shouldn't have another big game.
2. Play turnover-free football
Before the Week 10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the Buccaneers had gone 2-2 in their previous four games. While there were many differences between their victories and their losses, one thing that really stands out is the turnover situation. In the two losses, Tampa Bay turned the ball over four times. In the victories before Week 10? Zero. If Tampa Bay can avoid making those back breaking mistakes, they have a shot to go into Philadelphia and grab their second victory in a row against the NFC East.
3. Throw different looks at Mark Sanchez and create pressure
The rust will likely still be there for Sanchez, at least for the first half. Against the Miami Dolphins, Sanchez wasn't bad, completing 14 of 23 passes for 156 yards and an interception. The Buccaneers need to do anything and everything to make him uncomfortable right out of the gate in his spot start for the Eagles. Tampa Bay has 20 sacks this season, and if they can improve on that number early on Sunday, it's going to make for an interesting game between two 4-5 teams.
1. Design pass plays for Jordan Matthews
In eight and a half games with Mark Sanchez in 2014, Matthews racked up 599 yards receiving and six touchdowns. He was Sanchez's first read on most passing plays and he did not disappoint. After a slow start to the 2015 season, Matthews has 12 catches, 154 yards and a touchdown over his past two games. The Eagles will look to get him involved early and often with Sanchez at quarteback, and barring a miracle, Sanchez will be starting for the Eagles this Sunday.
2. Use bracket coverage on Mike Evans
Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson has already been ruled out after missing the last several weeks with an injury. In Jackson's place, the Buccaneers have been unable to find a second option in the passing game. As a result, Evans has seen a whopping 52 targets in the past four games. Only Antonio Brown has seen more. The Eagles need to use a safety over the top on Evans' side of the field as much as possible in Week 11.
3. Get Darren Sproles involved in the offense
Sproles made headlines Thursday when he told Eagles reporters that he wanted more opportunites to get into a groove on offense. Well, he might finally get his opportunity in Week 11. Running back Ryan Mathews has missed practice all week while going through the NFL's concussion protocol, and he is most likely out for this Sunday's game. In his place, Sproles will see a lot more action on offense. This is a good thing for the Eagles -- he offers more in the passing game than any Eagles running back.