Battle of the backups with Foles vs. Fitzpatrick
After the hugs, the hellos and the how-are-yous, the Eagles get to see how much Beau Allen and Vinny Curry really know about their offensive line, which they practiced against the past two years.
If you don’t believe it starts up front for the Eagles, who oppose the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium
(1 p.m., Channel 29, WIP 94.1FM), you weren’t paying attention when they won their first Super Bowl with a backup quarterback almost everyone had given up on.
Speaking of retread quarterbacks, 36-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick, who plays cribbage with Allen, starts his sixth game for his sixth different team against the Eagles. Try saying that six times fast.
“It’s hard to play this game,” said 33-year-old Chris Long, tied for the Eagles’ lead with 1½ sacks. “And to play it for 14 years like he has, that’s a lot of ups and downs, that’s a lot of experience, and guys respect that. And I think that’s why his locker room respects him so much. You hear guys over there talking about him. They definitely believe in him. And he’s a heck of an option when you don’t have your starting guy.”
But back to the intelligence gleaned by Allen and Curry through OTA’s, minicamps, training camps and regular seasons. It’s not just the offensive line calls the Eagles must alter. Fitzpatrick has a cheat sheet on what the defensive line does best. There is genuine concern the Bucs could benefit.
“At the end of the day you still have to line up and beat us,” Eagles pass rusher Brandon Graham
The forecast for the 1 p.m. kickoff is 91 degrees, with a real feel temperature of 104. Should be some tired mistakes made. The difference is the Eagles are just stronger up front on both sides of the ball. The pick: Make it Eagles 34, Bucs 29
— Bob Grotz
said. “But they know a lot of stuff about us.”
Typically, teams insert dummy calls when the opposition has an intimate knowledge of what they do best, and how they do it. That happens a lot in division games where teams play each other twice a year. This game has some of that flavor.
“It’s something we take into consideration,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. “The other thing we take into consideration is they have to focus on their job, obviously. Two great players that we obviously owe a lot of gratitude for helping us win a championship last year. We just have to execute and be sort of mindful of when they’re in the game. But there will be some things that we have to change up just because they know the terminology up front.”
Fitzpatrick isn’t your typical backup quarterback. This is the seventh stop for the product of Harvard, yet also the 121st start. He’s 49-70-1 in his career, including 3-1 with the Bucs. He’s 1-3-1 against the Eagles, the victory coming on a late scoring drive in Buffalo set up by Juqua Parker jumping offsides.
Fitzpatrick earned NFC player of the week honors by throwing for 417 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for a score in the Bucs’ season-opening 4840 win over Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
While Fitzpatrick is keeping the seat warm for starter Jameis Winston, suspended the first three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, he developed a unique chemistry with game-breaking receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson during training camp.
No one realize how good it was until the first game. Though the Bucs didn’t drop those obscene numbers on the Steel Curtain, it’s tough to win a shootout against Brees in the Big Easy.
“I don’t think anybody expected 48 points,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “You know they’ve got offense, they’ve got players. But 48 points? That gets your attention. The ball is going to be in the air. He’s not going to hold on to it with the receivers that they have. They’re going to test the deep part of your defense. We’ve got to be able to hold up.”
Linebacker Nigel Bradham returns from his one-game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy in the nick of time for the Eagles, as he can at least re-route hulking Bucs tight ends O.J. Howard (6-6, 249) and Cameron Brate (6-4, 245).
Nick Foles, who makes his eighth straight start in place of Carson Wentz, still doesn’t have Alshon Jeffery, who will miss the game. Third down back Darren Sproles (hamstring) also is out although that could be a blessing in disguise for Corey Clement, another star of the Super Bowl who was barely used in the opener.
Allen, Curry and Jackson, who’s coming off a concussion, will be pumped to play the Eagles, and vice versa.
“It will be fun for a little bit but at the same time we’ve got a game to win,” Clement said. “We know what’s at stake. We’re trying to go back home victorious. Everybody hates the plane ride losing. They’re a sound football team. They did a great job against the New Orleans Saints. You’ve got to prepare to almost beat them to their own punch. I can’t wait to get out there, try to put some points on the board.”
The Eagles got just two touchdowns, both by running back Jay Ajayi, in their 18-12 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Both were in the second half, after Foles and the offense found their rhythm.
“I think if we run the ball better earlier, usually when we do that we usually start games pretty well,” offensive tackle Lane Johnson said. “Last week we didn’t really run the ball effectively until kind of later in the game. So, if we can get that going earlier we’ll have a good day. We’ll change some calls, as far as the scheme. Just kind of the O-line calls that they may know.”
Former Eagles and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson celebrates a touchdown catch from veteran backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.