Eagles take on Brady and Bucs, we mourn the death of a great fan

His real name is Frank Bozek, but regular readers here knew him as “Palm Feathers”, or Palmy for short. A true gentleman in every sense of the word, Palmy lent us a voice of compassionate reason in the midst of many firefights among us when we had an active Comments section going on here.  Those were the “Roaring ’20’s” here back in the days circa 2010-2019.  EYE even dubbed him our honorary “Chaplain” for his efforts.  He was also a former semi-pro offensive lineman and Vietnam veteran.  He made a successful career for himself in the engineering field and eventually settled in the Sarasota area with a loving family and a good business and an enviable lifestyle to uplift his spirit.  The Eagles were his original NFL team from his youth in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, so he willingly contributed observations based upon his historical familiarity with the franchise. He sent me personal messages of encouragement as EYE tried to bring original takes on the game we follow, which often took me down roads not often taken, such as articles about equipment and blocking techniques and diet and stuff.  Well, Palmy was there with an opinion.  His presence was reassuring and welcome.  He would have loved this upcoming playoff match with Tampa Bay.  But now he is gone to another dimension of time and space…

One thing Palmy would have said, I’m sure, is that the Eagles should rejoice in their opportunity to come from nowhere to shine in the Bonus Round by simply embracing their “nothing to lose, house money mentality” and let it all hang out in Tampa.

In other words, we don’t expect to win, but we’re gonna have fun trying…

What works is playing wall-to-wall sound, fundamental defense and controlling Time of Possession on offense—and even then Tom Brady usually gets his with a Buccaneers offense that ranked first in the NFL in passing offense and second in the league in points scored, total offense, third-down offense, and red zone offense. The Eagles saw plenty of Brady back in Week 6 when they hosted the Bucs and limited Tampa Bay to just seven second-half points, produced an interception, nearly had a second pick, did a good job against the running game (102 yards on 31 Tampa Bay attempts), and still … Brady completed 34 of 42 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns, compiling a passer rating of 102.1.

Jonathan Gannon’s defense did some good things in the first meeting between the teams – forcing four three-and-out series, taking the football away once on the interception, and generally keeping the Eagles in the game. But there were things that, as LB T.J. Edwards said, the Eagles would like to “clean up,” and that includes two Tampa Bay 75-yard touchdown drives to open the game, two more long drives (72 and 78 yards) that ended in touchdowns, and a 12-play, 52-yard drive that consumed the final 5:52 off the game clock to end the Thursday night contest.

Round 2 is Sunday at 1 P.M. EST (Fox TV) and Gannon is well aware of the challenges against an offense that won’t have wide receivers Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin (who combined for 14 receptions, 136 yards, and a touchdown the first time around) but will have tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was injured in October.

“We’ve got to be ready for everything,” Gannon said. “It’s going to be a big-time challenge.”

Gannon explained more deeply, discussing how the defending Super Bowl Champion Bucs have “adjusted and adapted” with new personnel on the field, praising the timing, spacing, continuity, and precision of the routes and the marriage of the concepts in Tampa Bay’s passing attack and, of course, noting the Brady Factor in all of this. Gannon referred to Brady as a “trained killer” on the football field for good reason.

All of which means the Eagles are going to challenge every bit of the Tampa Bay offense with a defense that has evolved for the better since that Week 6 game. Edwards, for one, is the starter at middle linebacker and he’s been all over the football in the second half of the season. The secondary has improved with the insertion of a healthy Rodney McLeod into the starting lineup. The players know what Gannon wants from them and Gannon knows what the players can do for him.

“Looking back at that game and seeing how far we’ve come from that game in October to now, it’s awesome to see how we’ve evolved, and the growth we’ve had and the connection as a team and our chemistry on defense. You saw our play pick up later in the year. We’re a different team than we were in October and so are they,” Edwards said. “That’s the exciting part. We’re both at our best right now and we’ll see who comes out on top.”

As Dave Spadaro pointed out this week at PE.com, “That’s what makes the matchup so tantalizing, so challenging, so exciting. The Eagles aren’t going to back down. Quite the contrary: They want to see what they’ve got against one of the game’s best-ever players and an offense that is the total package.”

“I would say just from a global offensive perspective, the timing of their routes are very, very, very good,” Gannon said. “The distribution of their concepts is very good. The ball, obviously, comes out extremely fast, it’s on time. And in the passing game, just like on defense, you got to have all 11 executing at a high level. You see whoever’s out there for them, they all execute at a very high level. Their offensive line is very good, they have a lot of continuity with their offensive line. Tom is on the same page with all the receivers and the backs. They know how to adjust their routes based off coverage. When they call certain concepts, the spacing is spot on, the timing is spot on, and they execute at a high level. Their technique within that is very good.

“So, that’s what sticks out on the tape more than the people. We know have they have weapons all over, but it’s the same page and the continuity and the execution level is very high.”

The key to getting the best of Brady, then? It’s something few defenses are able to do, but it has been done.

“Get him out of his comfort zone a little bit,” Gannon said. “He typically has success versus most people, but I do think that we’ve got to be able to get him a little bit out of rhythm with the different tools that we have to do that.”

It’s probably going to be a bad-weather game—- chilling winds 20-30 mph combined with rain.  That might be an omen which plays to the Eagles’ strength in the running game.  Philadelphia, led by the legs and arm of Jalen Hurts, owns the NFL’s best rushing offense (159.7 rushing yards per game), but will now face a Tampa Bay defense that surrendered the third-fewest (92.5) rushing yards per game in the regular season. Hurts, in addition to throwing for 3,144 passing yards and 16 touchdowns, also led the club in both rushing yards (784) as well as rushing touchdowns (10). In fact, the sophomore signal caller led all NFL quarterbacks in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.

In the passing attack, rookie wideout DeVonta Smith and dangerous pass-catching tight end Dallas Goedert are the club’s top weapons. Smith, who led the club in receptions (64) and receiving yards (916), has produced consistent production down the stretch posting 40-plus receiving yards in seven of the last nine games. Goedert has become an integral part of the offense over the last four weeks, recording 21 receptions and 339 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

The ground game could work for the Bucs, too.  On the ground, it is expected that the Buccaneers will be without running Ronald Jones (ankle). The fourth-year back has been starting in place of Leornard Fournette (hamstring) since Week 15. However, the team is optimistic that Fournette will be able to return just when the club needs him most. Last season, the talented veteran was instrumental in the club’s run to a Super Bowl victory. In the first matchup between the two clubs in Week 6, the powerful Fournette ran for a game-high 81 rushing yards and two touchdowns while adding six receptions for 46 yards in the passing game.

No matter how you handicap it, the game boils down to fundamental running, catching, blocking and tackling.  No way around the fundamentals, as Palmy would say.  So the Eagles have a puncher’s chance despite going into this as 8-point underdogs. Tampa Bay heads into the postseason having won seven of their last eight games despite losing several key offensive players. Chris Godwin was lost for the season in Week 15 with a torn ACL against the Saints. Two weeks ago, Antonio Brown quit the team during the team’s game against the Jets. If any club can still find a way to win, despite losing key offensive weapons, it’s a squad led by Tom Brady.

The question for bettors is easy: Are you willing to lay the second-biggest spread on the board for the opening round or fade the G.O.A.T in the playoffs? In his prestigious career, Brady has 34 playoff wins.

Palmy would say follow your gut on what the trends and the weather reports are telling you: this game is destined for unpredictability.  Enjoy the ride.