Fantasy Watch: Riley Cooper (PHI) and Doug Martin (TB)
The Tampa Buccaneers run defense is stout. Led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and middle linebacker Mason Foster, they are ranked 9th in the NFL giving up only 94.3 yards per game. Last season when the Eagles played the Bucs with Nick Foles under center, the Bucs front seven bottled up Bryce Brown for only six yards on 12 carries. The Eagles’ run game was dismal.
That’s why my fantasy watch isn’t LeSean McCoy. It isn’t DeSean, who is going up against arguably the best cover corner in the NFL, Darrelle Revis. It’s Riley Cooper, especially considering Foles will be the starter. Cooper will be facing rookie CB Johnthan Banks, who recently acquired the MRSA infection; that means he’ll be going up against a guy who is coming off of a serious bacterial infection, and considering the pretty good rapport he developed with Nick Foles last season, especially in the red zone, I expect him to put up a nice stat line on Sunday.
Projected stats for Cooper: 6 catches, 82 yards, touchdown (14.2 points)
The Tampa Buccaneers love to run the ball, and for good reason: despite having one of the best wide receiver duos in the league in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, their quarterbacks, now Mike Glennon, have been unable to deliver the ball down the field. The Eagles, however, will have to drop a fair amount into coverage to make up for a lackluster group of safeties; this will open things up over the middle for arguably one of the best young backs in the league, Doug Martin. Martin leads the league in carries to date, but with the mess at QB he’s been unable to find much running room (342 yards on 100 attempts). Expect that to change against an Eagles front seven that allows bigger, bruising backs to slam the ball right down their throat.
Projected stats for Martin: 25 rushes, 122 yards, touchdown, 17 receiving yards (19.9 points)
Key Matchup: DeSean Jackson vs Darrelle Revis
DeSean Jackson is the definition of feast or famine. Just look at his statistics: 104 yards (plus touchdown), 193 yards (plus touchdown), 62 yards, 34 yards, 132 yards (plus touchdown). Most of the time, he succeeds because the run game forces teams to shy away from keeping two high safeties, which allows him to get the deep ball. When he’s struggling, it’s because opposing defenses are running effective over/under coverage patterns to eliminate his big-play ability.
This week, however, might be an exception: he will finally be facing a cornerback who can take him 1-on-1. Jackson will be going up against Darrelle Revis, in my opinion the number one shutdown corner in the game, and therefore will have to truly beat his man to make an impact. The Bucs will either keep Dashon Goldson over the top on Cooper or bring up both safeties to help in the run/intermediate passing game. Nick Foles hasn’t shown yet that he can throw the deep ball with consistency, so Jackson running some great routes early and catching balls deep from Foles would go a long way in allowing this Eagles offense to express themselves a little more as the game goes along.
X-Factors: Clogging the Middle (PHI) and Staying Two-Dimensional (TB)
If the Philadelphia Eagles lose this game it will be for one reason, and one reason only: Doug Martin gashes them up the middle. Yeah, the Bucs have a couple of nice wideouts, but rookie QB Mike Glennon is unlikely to make Brandon Boykin, Cary Williams, and Bradley Fletcher pay, especially after their confidence-inspiring performance last week against the Giants. The Eagles have been pretty good against the run this season (17th in the league), especially when it comes to taking away the big run (only team in the league that hasn’t allowed a run longer than 20 yards). Then again, besides Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs—who had a big day against the Birds—they haven’t exactly been facing the greatest rushing attacks (sloppy Redskins, Ryan Mathews, Knowshon Moreno, and David Wilson). Doug Martin proved last season that he is capable of breaking out in a big way, and considering his struggles thus far in 2013, it would seem he is due. The Eagles need big performances out of Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, and DeMeco Ryans to contain Martin.
All that said, the Buccaneers will not win if they can’t at least keep the Eagles secondary honest. Mike Glennon didn’t show much two weeks ago against Arizona, completing 24-of-43 passes for 193 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. He is like Foles in the sense that he struggles to throw the deep ball, which hinders Vincent Jackson’s productivity just like Foles can sometimes hinder DeSean’s. If he can complete the bubble screens, slant routes, and intermediate throws, however, he will force Billy Davis to take part of his focus away from stopping the run game which will be key for Tampa’s offensive efficiency.
Prediction: Eagles 17, Buccaneers 13
This is your classic low-scoring matchup: a great offense (Eagles) meets an even more talented defense while one of the league’s worst offenses (Bucs) struggles to find a rhythm against a mediocre defense. Nick Foles will do just enough in the red zone to get his team the win, but Eagles fan will miss Michael Vick’s explosive ability. The secondary will force a couple of turnovers once again and the defense will play its best all-around game of the season.