417 yards and 4 touchdowns. Those are the statistics that you will hear over and over again this week as the Philadelphia Eagles prepare to take on a Buccaneers team that shook the world just a few days ago. Journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick looked into the face of losing, grinned and proceeded to cheat it once again. The veteran lifted his Bucs team to a stunning 48-40 win over the Saints, who went into the fixture as -10 point favorites. Was this the biggest shock of week one? Absolutely. Will week two see an even bigger one? Potentially.
Unfortunately for Fitzpatrick however, this won’t necessarily end in his favor. Sure, Fitzpatrick rekindled the form of his Buffalo years, finding comfort in his safety blanket, Mike Evans, but he won’t have such an easy job this time around. Let’s not take anything away from the quarterback now in his 14th season, he played one hell of a game…but so did his offensive line.
Against the Saints, Fitzpatrick was hit just twice and his offensive line allowed 4 tackles for a loss. With all the time in the world, Fitzpatrick was able to test the Saints secondary underneath consistently, firing at a 75% completion rate. Those numbers are simply absurd and were largely inflated by the fact that New Orleans has next to no presence in the trenches. The team finished with 7 total pressures, ranking 27th of 28 teams and the only player to hurry the quarterback more than once was Alex Okafor.
Fitzpatrick will face a very different situation when he lines up opposite Fletcher Cox who will be staring deep into his soul. The Eagles weren’t just able to completely stifle the Falcons inside the red zone, but hit Matt Ryan a thumping 13 times, batting down 10 passes and driving home 9.5 tackles for a loss. No passing touchdowns and a plucked pass from Rasul Douglas acted as the cherry on the cake for a defense that decimated the pride of the NFC South.
“We were collapsing the pocket, and a couple of those throws the quarterback could barely even get it off.” Jim Schwartz explained earlier this week. “He was on the clock. He didn’t want to take a sack and have the clock run out; didn’t want to throw an interception and put the quarterback in a little bit of a bind.”
To make things even worse for the Bucs, it’s not like Fitzpatrick has had great success against the Eagles either. When the two last met in 2015, he was forced to throw 58 times, tossing 3 interceptions and 2 touchdowns. He was hit 9 times during that game. In the two games against a Jim Schwartz defense, Fitzpatrick has completed 60% of his passes, thrown 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt. That sounds like a very different quarterback to the one who just ripped the Saints secondary to shreds, doesn’t it?
The Eagles have a pass-rush that is unrelenting and a huge reason behind that is the rotation. Whether it’s Chris Long and Brandon Graham, or Derek Barnett and Michael Bennett, this unit does not rest. Schwartz continues to find new ways to harness the potential within that locker room, while keeping his starters at 100% and allowing the ‘fresh legs’ effect to beat down on worn out offensive linemen.
“So I think you need to have unselfish players.” The Eagles defensive coordinator said when asked about the success behind his never-ending defensive end rotation. “It just needs to be stressed. I think when you show plays like those last five plays in the game when they were fresh and they were coming and it didn’t matter who was in the game, I think that that goes a long way to selling those kind of things.
It’s good for not just one game, but over the course of the season. I think our players recognize that. I think it also goes to another theme of what we’ve been talking about: you have to trust a guy that he can go in and make those plays.
If you want to rotate players, you need to have players that can be the field. You can’t say, ‘Well, ‘this’ guy can’t be out there in ‘this’ situation or ‘this’ situation or ‘this’ situation or ‘this’ situation,’ and then he doesn’t play very much snaps in the game.
So we have trust in those players. They work hard together. They realize it’s about the group, it’s not about them individually. That’s where the production counts.”
If the Bucs offensive line show shades of 2017, where they allowed a total of 100 quarterback hits and 41 sacks, they’re going to have an extremely painful and frustrating day against an Eagles defense that has somehow gotten even better in a shortened offseason.
Should Fitzpatrick’s effortless deconstruction of the Saints act as a warning? The bigger they are, the harder they fall.