Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Eagles-Bucs: Overcoming reception issues

Posted by Eric Fisher On September 13

The well-rested Eagles hit the road this week after defeating the Falcons in their season opener. The Buccaneers, their opponents Sunday (1 p.m.), surprised many observers by defeating the Saints, 48-40, in their season opener.

Containing the Bucs offense will be a challenge for the Eagles defense. That defense was up to the challenge during the 18-12 victory over the Falcons, who have former MVP Matt Ryan at quarterback and Julio Jones at receiver.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles are struggling to find quality receivers. Alshon Jeffery remains sidelined as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery, Mack Hollins is on injured reserve and Shelton Gibson didn’t practice Thursday due to a knee injury.

The man in charge of finding open receivers will be Nick Foles because the Eagles will once again be without quarterback Carson Wentz, who continues to recover from a torn ACL and LCL (anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments) in his left knee. When Wentz will return remains a mystery, but it will be a lot easier to keep him on the sidelines if the Eagles keep winning.

Here are questions to consider while watching Sunday’s game.

Should Eagles fans be worried about Nick Foles?

Not yet. Let’s stick with merely being concerned. Foles had a rough season opener, completing 19 of 34 passes for just 117 yards and throwing an interception. The poor opener followed an awful preseason. But Foles is the reigning Super Bowl MVP, so he has earned a little slack. Another sub-par performance against the Bucs, however, will have fans clamoring for Carson Wentz’s return.

Is Foles the problem or is it the receivers?

Foles didn’t play well in the season opener, but there’s no question that the lack of quality at depth at receiver makes Foles’ task more difficult. Alshon Jeffery will miss Sunday’s game as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Nelson Agholor caught eight passes against the Falcons, but only gained 33 yards. Veteran Mike Wallace tried to stretch the defense with deep routes, but did not catch a pass. That’s why the Eagles were shuffling receivers on and off their roster and practice squad all week, finally re-signing Kamar Aiken and releasing Markus Wheaton. Shelton Gibson’s knee injury doesn’t make things any easier. Foles is a rhythm quarterback, and, with Agholor sidelined during the preseason, he hasn’t had much of an opportunity to establish a rhythm with his receivers. It won’t help that Foles may also be without Darren Sproles, his best receiving option out of the backfield. Sproles missed practice Thursday due to a strained hamstring.

How did the Bucs score 48 points against the Saints, matching the Jets for the most points during Week 1?

By throwing the ball. Don’t underestimate veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns in place of Jameis Winston, who is serving a three-game suspension. He has terrific targets in wide receivers Mike Evans, former Eagle DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin, the Penn State product with great hands, as well as tight end O.J. Howard. Jackson sustained a concussion against the Saints, but he was a limited participant in practice on Thursday.

How can the Eagles control the Bucs offense?

By pressuring the quarterback. If Fitzpatrick has time to throw, it will be difficult for the defensive backs to keep the receivers covered. The Eagles must pressure Fitzpatrick, as they did to Matt Ryan in the season opener. One positive for the Eagles is they shouldn’t have to be overly concerned with the Bucs’ rushing attack, so they can concentrate on stopping the pass.

How else can the Eagles limit the Bucs’ scoring?

The Eagles need to establish the run better than they did against the Falcons. The Eagles only gained 16 yards on the ground during the first half. The Eagles did a much better job during the second half, with Jay Ajayi gaining 51 yards and scoring two touchdowns. The Eagles need to establish the ground game earlier in order to control the clock and keep the Bucs’ receivers off the field.

Are there any other reasons to be optimistic about controlling the Bucs?

After being suspended by the NFL for the opener, linebacker Nigel Bradham returns to face the Bucs. Bradham was a crucial piece in the Eagles’ puzzle last season. Safety Deiondre Hall also returns after being suspended for the opener.

Don’t those guys look familiar?

Defensive end Vinny Curry and defensive tackle Beau Allen signed with the Bucs during the offseason after winning the Super Bowl with the Eagles. Receiver DeSean Jackson became a star with the Eagles before they let him go.

Will the Eagles use their tight ends more effectively?

With the struggles at receiver, the Eagles may need to rely more on their tight ends. Zach Ertz caught five passes for 48 yards against the Falcons, but, uncharacteristically, dropped a pass. Rookie Dallas Goedert only had one catch for 4 yards in his NFL debut, and he had one pass knocked loose for an interception. Nick Foles needs his tight ends to be his security blanket, not a question mark.

What else could help the Eagles’ passing game. ?

The Buc might be without their two starting cornerbacks. They lost Vernon Hargreaves to a season-ending shoulder injury in their season opener. Starting cornerback Brent Grimes didn’t practice Thursday due to a groin injury.  But do the Eagles have receivers who can take advantage of the Bucs’ backups?

Will we see a variation of the Philly Special again this week?

It’s doubtful. Pulling off a play in which Nick Foles is the primary receiver once was amazing. Doing it again in the season opener was incredible. The Eagles couldn’t possibly fool a defense with a similar play for the third straight game, could they?

PREDICTION: The Eagles have a much better pass rush than the Saints, so they should be able to put pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick. In other words, don’t expect the Bucs to put up 48 points again this week. Expect head coach Doug Pederson to find a way to compensate for the lack of depth and quality at receiver. If Darren Sproles isn’t at full strength or does play, Corey Clement could play a major role. Eagles 24, Bucs 20

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