EAGLES // BUCCANEERS OVERVIEW
After torching the Saints’ man-heavy coverage scheme last week, the Bucs will be taking on a more sophisticated, zone-leaning Eagles defense. While Dirk Koetter had some solid schemes and route concepts in that thrashing of the Saints’ D, that explosion was due more to individual receivers dusting individual corners than to any sort of concepts that might give the Eagles fits. As such, it is unsurprising (though perhaps a bit insulting to the team) to see the Bucs installed with a Vegas-implied total of only 20.5 at home — good for the seventh-lowest mark among the 26 teams playing on the main slate.
On the other side of the matchup, Nick Foles has run through all of his fairy dust; the Eagles are projected to score only 23.5 points against a truly poor Buccaneers defense. I expect the line to climb a bit higher as the week moves along, but there are obvious reasons to limit expectations.
EAGLES PASS OFFENSE
Although Brent Grimes is closer to retirement than he is to his prime, and Vernon Hargreaves can be comfortably referred to as a draft bust, these are still two starters now missing from what was already a poor Tampa secondary. Last week, we highlighted the deficiencies of this Tampa pass defense, pointing out that they boosted wide receiver production by over 20% last year on DraftKings, FantasyDraft, and FanDuel. Many of us took advantage of that with Michael Thomas and Drew Brees; and while Foles is not exactly the “take advantage of it” kind of guy, we do have a repeat situation this week for Agholor: There are only two NFL-caliber wide receivers healthy on this team (Agholor and Mike Wallace), and Wallace’s skill set is a brutal fit with what Foles is here to do. Last week, we highlighted Agholor in the Thursday night game, and he went on to see 10 targets, for a 29.4% share of the Eagles’ pass attempts. To emphasize just how little interest the Eagles have in throwing to other wide receivers right now: DeAndre Carter played 53 snaps last week and ran 29 pass routes; he received only one target. Until Alshon Jeffrey returns, Agholor will remain a target monster.
Another 10 targets last week went to Zach Ertz, who pass blocked only three times all game. The Bucs allowed limited production to tight ends last season, but this was more about how easy it was for teams to attack them with wide receivers than it was about stout defense. Ertz should be heavily involved once again, as he and Agholor are the current engines of this offense.
EAGLES RUN OFFENSE
Naturally, Jay Ajayi received unpredictable work against the Falcons in Week 1. There was talk afterward that the Eagles wanted to ease him back in off an injury, but as we discussed in this space last week: the Eagles’ desire is to attack a defense in a variety of unpredictable ways. We also highlighted the possibility of the Eagles turning more heavily to Darren Sproles against a Falcons defense that was attackable through the air with running backs, and we saw that play out from the start of the game.
All that to say: we will want to be cautious all season that we do not fall into the trap of “assuming Ajayi is a reliable workhorse,” as there will simply be games this season in which he is not the guy the Eagles want to feature. The comparison we drew last week was to the annual unpredictability of the Patriots’ backfield. That’s how we should view the Eagles.
With that cleared out of the way, however, this would seem to be a good spot for the Eagles to lean on Ajayi. The Bucs were more attackable through the air last year than they were on the ground, but with how miserable Foles has been, it would make sense for Philly to build this week’s game plan around their best back. There is a chance he will see 20+ touches in an above-average matchup.
BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE
Peyton Barber played on 48 of a possible 66 snaps last week (72.7%), carrying the ball 19 times. While he didn’t see any targets in the pass game, he did run 16 pass routes, so the opportunity will be there this season for a couple catches each game.
That’s where the good news ends. This Philly defense allowed the fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL last season, while facing only 17.6 running back rush attempts per game. Philly ranked first in the NFL last year in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards. This is not an impossible matchup, but it is a very difficult one.
BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE
With the Eagles’ stout front able to stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback, teams favor a short passing attack as the best means of moving the ball against them — though it will be interesting to see what Tampa opts to do after their deep ball success in Week 1 against the Saints, and after the deep ball success the Falcons were able to have against Philly last week.
The key for throwing deep against Philly is stopping their four-man rush. In 2017, only the Jaguars and Bengals rushed with four men at a higher rate than Philly — which allows Philly to clog up the field with defenders while still getting pressure. If the line can hold long enough, however, there are holes that can be exposed. I expect more mistakes from Fitzpatrick in this game (he was regularly throwing to open guys last week, which won’t be the case this week), but I’m actually high on this offense — and there is a chance ownership will be low even after the Week 1 blowup, as people will be afraid that they are just “chasing points.”
My interest in this offense has less to do with scoring expectations and more to do with the situation it presents:
The Bucs have no real threat in the pass game out of the backfield (Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber combined to see only one total target, on 25 pass routes run between them), and O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate played at the expense of one another. This gives us a small group of available pass catchers for volume to flow to, against a Philly defense that forces teams to the air. If we project a fairly conservative 35 pass attempts for Fitzpatrick and a fairly liberal nine targets for tight ends and running backs, that still leaves 26 theoretical targets for the wide receivers. And if DeSean Jackson (concussion) fails to get cleared in time for this game, that tightens things up even further: Adam Humphries will soak up a few low-upside targets in the slot, and football gods Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will see the rest of the usage. This passing attack will be intriguing from an upside perspective no matter what; but if DeSean Jackson misses this game, it will become intriguing from a floor perspective as well.
Nelson Agholor should see anywhere from eight to 12 targets in this game against a Tampa defense that got ripped to shreds last week by Michael Thomas. This is not Drew Brees throwing to him, so I’m tempering expectations. But he provides definite floor and obvious ceiling, and he is still a bit underpriced on all three sites. The only other guy in this passing attack I would consider is Ertz, who should once again be heavily involved as one of only two weapons Foles can get the ball to.
Ajayi is not a guy I’ll feel comfortable rostering in cash games as long as Sproles and Corey Clement are healthy, but he does carry week-winning upside if he indeed becomes the driving force of the offense this week. There is a chance the Eagles scheme around him in an effort to hide Foles.
I’m not on board with Barber this week either. But I do like the idea of targeting the Bucs’ passing attack. I imagine I’ll be looking for a more secure quarterback option than Fitzpatrick this week, but all three of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and DeSean Jackson will be appealing to me as upside tourney plays; and if Jackson misses, Evans and Godwin will immediately gain high floors as well.
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