Week 3 Player Matchups to Watch: Eagles vs Buccaneers

Eagles-Buccaneers player matchups to watch in Week 3 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles (2-0) will travel to Florida to take on the Buccaneers (2-0) in a battle of unbeaten teams on Monday Night Football.

Let’s get to the matchups:

Jalen Hurts vs. Todd Bowles

The MVP runner-up isn’t off to such a hot start in 2023 but he has done enough for the Eagles to win both of their games. And you have to credit the defenses he’s faced for really putting together solid game plans.

Through two games, Hurts has completed 71.4% of his passes for 363 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. He hasn’t looked entirely comfortable in the pocket and has been sacked seven times already. He has been sacked on 11.1% of his passes, which is the seventh-highest percentage in the NFL.

What can we expect to see from Todd Bowles’ defense in Tampa? Well, as always, a lot of blitzing. Bowles has been known for his blitzing defense for years and the 2023 season is no different. Through two weeks, the Buccaneers have blitzed opposing quarterbacks on 37.8% of drop-backs, which ranks sixth in the league. It’s worth noting that the Vikings (49.3%) and Patriots (44.3%), the Eagles’ first two opponents, rank first and second in the league.

According to PFF, Hurts has the second-best grade among quarterbacks facing the blitz this season. But the Eagles, as a whole, have seen their ups and downs when facing extra rushers so far.

Hurts is 0-2 against the Bucs in his career, with the second loss coming in his first playoff game at the end of the 2021 season. Hurts really struggled in that game and finished with a passer rating of 60.0 in that game. But Hurts is a much different player than he was in that game. He had a Pro Bowl season in between.

Eagles run game vs. Bucs run defense

While the Eagles’ passing attack has been slow to start this season, they were able to run for 259 yards in Week 2. The Eagles have a fantastic offensive line and will welcome back Kenny Gainwell (ribs) in this game after D’Andre Swift had a 175-yard game against the Vikings.

Since Nick Sirianni became the Eagles’ head coach in 2021, the Eagles have had 10 games with 200+ rushing yards, the most in the NFL.

But the Bucs have been very good against the run under Bowles. In fact, since Bowles became the DC in 2019, the Bucs have the NFL’s No. 1 run defense, giving up just 91.22 yards per game. And that’s continuing this season. In the first two games of 2023, the Bucs have the NFL’s No. 2 rushing defense, allowing 54.0 yards per game. (The top run defense in the NFL belongs to the Eagles, who have given up 52.0 yards per game.)

Eagles undersized iOL vs. Vita Vea

That great Buccaneers’ rushing defense all starts up front with 350-pound nose tackle Vita Vea, who emerged as a pass rusher last year too. Vea has always been great against the run but he added 6 1/2 sacks last year and has another 1 1/2 through two games this year. Keep an eye on Vea vs. the undersized duo of Jason Kelce and Cam Jurgens on the Eagles’ interior.

Just from a size perspective, Vea is a challenge for the Eagles’ interior offensive line. The biggest interior defensive tackle the Eagles have faced in the first two weeks is Patriots DT Davon Godchaux, who is listed at 330 pounds. The Vikings’ interior linemen aren’t very big.

Not only is Vea the biggest interior lineman the Eagles have faced this season but he’s also the best. Vea was a Pro Bowler in 2021 and it’s a shame he only has one Pro Bowl nod to his name because he’s a game-changer player.

Eagles’ takeaway defense vs. Baker Mayfield

The Bucs’ journeyman quarterback is off to a really good start this season. He has completed 69.1% of his passes for 490 yards and 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. Mayfield has been extremely careful with the football but he’s also been really good against pressure and on third downs. In fact, Mayfield leads the NFL in 3rd-down completion percentage at 87% and he’s second behind Kirk Cousins in 3rd-down passer rating at 132.1.

According to PFF, Mayfield has had a turnover worthy play on just 1.3% of his snaps this season. That ranks tied for 31st in the NFL out of 32 quarterbacks. For reference, Hurts is 10th at 4.1%.

Give Mayfield credit. He hasn’t coughed up the football yet this season and the Bucs are one of six teams in the NFL without turning over the football yet. On the flip side, the Eagles have six takeaways in two games. Just the Cowboys (7) have more. The Eagles forced two turnovers in Week 1 and four in Week 2. Something has to give here.

Haason Reddick vs. Luke Goedeke

It’s been a bit of a slow start for Reddick in 2023 but I wouldn’t worry about him. Reddick has been getting over a thumb injury and surgery that has clearly affected his play, but it’s also worth noting he got off to a slow start last year. He didn’t have a sack in Weeks 1 or 2 of 2022 but then broke out in a major way with 4 1/2 in his next three games. He has a chance to do something similar here against Goedeke, who is clearly the weaker of the Bucs’ two tackles.

The Bucs have given up just one sack so far in 2023 — which is pretty wild — and it was Goedeke who gave it up against the Vikings (Danielle Hunter) in Week 1. Goedeke was a second-round pick out of Central Michigan last year but played mostly left guard as a rookie. He’s moved to right tackle full-time in 2023

While Reddick will have a chance to get after Mayfield on his side, the matchup on the other side is more of a heavyweight match. Josh Sweat is off to a fantastic start to his 2023 season but will have to deal with two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tristan Wirfs in this game. Wirfs has given up just two pressures in two games, according to PFF.

Eagles corners vs. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin

Mayfield is off to a great start and he’s getting the ball to the top two Bucs targets. Evans already has 12 catches for 237 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Godwin has 10 catches for 109 yards.

Evans, 30, has nine straight 1,000-yard seasons to begin his NFL career and is well on his way to a 10th. He’s been the poster child for offensive consistency in the NFL for a decade.

This is a fun matchup because Darius Slay is off to a great start in 2023 and James Bradberry should be back for this game after missing Week 2 with a concussion. The bad news for the Eagles is they’re going to be without Avonte Maddox, who is likely out for the season with a torn pec that needs surgery.

The Bucs will use Evans or Godwin in the slot. Against the Eagles, without Maddox, that isn’t a bad idea.

Here’s how much the Bucs have used them in the slot in 2023 and in 2022 and the percentage of their snaps in the slot, per PFF:

Evans: 15 snaps (15%)
Godwin: 39 snaps (35.1%)

And how much they used them in the slot in 2022:

Evans: 237 snaps (23.6%)
Godwin: 628 snaps (65.9%)

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