The Philadelphia Eagles entered the playoffs on a shaky note, dropping five of their last six regular-season games. However, the postseason serves as a clean slate, and as they emphasize, everyone starts at 0-0.
While that’s true, the Eagles must elevate their performance significantly from the past six weeks to have a shot at a successful playoff journey.
Here, we highlight three pivotal matchups to keep an eye on in the upcoming Monday night wild card showdown between the Eagles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Jalen Hurts vs. Todd Bowles, the blitz
In Hurts’ career, this upcoming game will be the third time he faces a defense led by Bowles. His track record against Bowles stands at 1-1, with varying outcomes in each encounter.
Hurts’ playoff debut in the 2021 season marked the first encounter against Bowles’ defense during wild card weekend, facing the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Buccaneers, led by future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.
Since then, Hurts has shown significant improvement as a passer, although he continues to grapple with challenges presented by robust blitz defenses, characteristic of Bowles’ coaching style. Adding to the complexity, Hurts is currently contending with a middle finger injury on his throwing hand as he enters the playoffs.
Last week’s game highlighted the struggle against intense blitzing, as the former defensive coordinator, Wink Martindale, employed a heavy blitz strategy, leaving the Eagles’ offense searching for effective countermeasures. Complicating matters further, Hurts will be without his primary weapon, A.J. Brown, sidelined due to a knee injury.
Throughout the regular season, Hurts faced difficulties against blitzes, ranking 28th in the NFL in such scenarios. Notably, the Buccaneers boast the third-highest blitz rate in the league.
Reflecting on their Week 3 matchup, Hurts went 13 for 23, accumulating 152 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 40.5 against the formidable Buccaneers.
Eagles secondary vs. Bucs WRs
Turning our attention to the defensive aspect, the Eagles’ secondary faces a formidable challenge in containing Tampa’s wide receivers, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans.
Both Evans and Godwin achieved 1,000-yard seasons during Baker Mayfield’s inaugural season as the team’s starting quarterback.
Despite grappling with a knee injury during the week, Godwin participated in full practice on Saturday.
In the Week 3 clash, the Eagles’ defense held Evans and Godwin to a collective eight receptions, 92 yards, and a lone touchdown.
However, it’s crucial to acknowledge the significant transformations in the Eagles’ dynamics since that Monday Night Football encounter in September.
Back then, defensive coordinator Sean Desai was calling the defensive shots for the Eagles. However, midway through the season, the Eagles opted for change by demoting Desai and appointing senior defensive assistant Matt Patricia as the team’s new defensive play-caller.
Since Patricia took over play-calling duties just before Week 15 against the Seattle Seahawks, the Eagles’ defense has faced challenges, yielding to opposing offenses both through the air and on the ground.
While the Eagles welcome back starting cornerback Darius Slay, they will be without rookie safety Sydney Brown. Additionally, starting safety Reed Blankenship is listed as questionable with a groin injury.
Eagles DL vs. Bucs OL
Last season, the Eagles’ defensive line showcased a historic performance, recording 70 sacks in the regular season—the third-highest tally in NFL history, trailing only the 1984 Chicago Bears and 1989 Minnesota Vikings.
However, this year has seen a notable shift in their defensive prowess. The team managed 43 sacks in the regular season, ranking 20th in the NFL. Some of their key pass rushers struggled to reach the quarterback consistently.
Haason Reddick, the primary pass rusher, hasn’t secured a sack since December 10 against the Dallas Cowboys, following an impressive 11 sacks earlier in the season. Similarly, Josh Sweat, the team’s other prominent edge rusher, hasn’t recorded a sack since November 5 against Dallas.
Despite a strong start to the season, rookie defensive tackle Jalen Carter has only notched 2.5 sacks since November.
With Mayfield’s status listed as questionable due to ankle and ribs injuries, the Eagles’ defensive line faces a crucial task in generating a pass rush to support the secondary on Monday night, a key factor if they aim to have a chance in the postseason.