5 matchups to watch when the Eagles clash with the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football

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Philadelphia Eagles’ D’Andre Swift (0) is tackled by Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Ryan Neal (23) and Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

The vibes are less than immaculate for the Philadelphia Eagles heading into Monday night’s wild-card playoff matchup. Jalen Hurts is dealing with a dislocated finger in addition to a sore knee that has plagued him for most of the season. He’ll play after assuring reporters that “things are progressing in the right way.”

Meanwhile, star receiver A.J. Brown and rookie safety Sydney Brown have both been ruled out with knee injuries while safety Reed Blankenship remains questionable due to a groin issue. On the positive side, cornerback Darius Slay, receiver DeVonta Smith, and running back D’Andre Swift are all ready to roll. That’s the injury report.

Nick Sirianni was asked earlier this week if he had any regrets about playing his starters in the regular-season finale. Predictably, the head coach stuck to his guns and refused to cry over any spilled milk.

“No, no. We went through it, like you guys asked me before, ‘why did we do it.’ Not knowing what the game was, you know, wanting to put a good output on there,” Sirianni told reporters on January 13. “I know that those things didn’t – neither of those things happened. But no. Obviously, you can look back on anything.”

Eagles vs. Buccaneers: 5 Key Matchups to Watch

The Eagles and Buccaneers will be meeting for the sixth time in the postseason on Monday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay. Kickoff is slated for 8:15 p.m., with Philadelphia coming in as three-point favorites on the road. Perhaps Vegas knows something everyone else doesn’t because the Eagles have looked dazed and confused during a dismal six-week stretch.

It’s been ugly, just sloppy and uninspired football. Yet, the guys in the locker room feel the tide is turning especially against what many consider an inferior Buccaneers squad. Here are five key matchups to watch in this one:

WR Mike Evans vs. CB Darius Slay

Buccaneers vs. Falcons
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) celebrates a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

The Eagles’ top cornerback hasn’t suited up since December 10 as he makes his long-awaited return from arthroscopic knee surgery. It’s hard to imagine Slay being 100 percent, but he’ll likely have the first crack at containing Evans who racked up his most receiving yards (1,255) since 2018 while leading the NFL in receiving touchdowns (13). Slay tends to get up for marquee matchups against elite receivers. Then again, the Buccaneers like to line Evans up in the slot and force mismatches like they did to the Eagles in the 2022 playoffs. Bradley Roby and/or Avonte Maddox would get the tough assignment of containing Evans in that scenario.

DT Vita Vea vs. RB D’Andre Swift

Commanders vs Eagles vs buccaneers
Philadelphia Eagles’ D’Andre Swift (0) tries to get past Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) and Dee Delaney (30) during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Will the Eagles commit to the running game this week? Or will it be more bubble screens and dump-offs short of the sticks? Swift appears fully healthy after missing last week’s game with an undisclosed illness. That’s the good news. The pride of St. Joseph’s Prep rumbled for 130 yards in Week 3 when the Eagles scored a 25-11 victory over the Bucs. Philly ran the ball 40 times for 201 yards in that one. But Tampa has turned into one of the best run-stopping defenses in the league since that game, with defensive tackle Vita Vea (6-foot-4, 347 pounds) clogging up the lane. It could be hard sledding for the Eagles up the middle.

LT Tristan Wirfs vs. Eagles’ Pass Rush

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick celebrates after sacking Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

It’s too hard to single out just one pass rusher. Keep an eye on the entire defensive line as the Eagles look to scheme up exotic looks off the edge. Haason Reddick (11 sacks) will no doubt be one of the main instigators, along with defensive ends Brandon Graham (3 sacks) and Josh Sweat (6.5 sacks). Graham hasn’t been the impact player of previous years in 2023 but this is the playoffs: “I feel like that dog mentality of us got to come back,” he said. Meanwhile, Wirfs is the real deal at left tackle. The Eagles will look to exploit the right side of Tampa’s offensive line which has surrendered 12 sacks and 88 pressures.

QB Baker Mayfield vs. DC Matt Patricia

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) runs from Minnesota Vikings linebacker Benton Whitley (51) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Baker Mayfield is officially listed as questionable due to ankle and rib injuries, but he’s going to play barring any last-minute setback. That means the smart money is on Eagles defensive coordinator Matt Patricia dialing up the pressure early and often to keep the wounded duck grounded. Bring the blitz and keep him in the pocket. Mayfield is at his best when he’s extending plays with his legs, something he may not even be able to do on a bum wheel.

HC Todd Bowles vs. QB Jalen Hurts

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) gestures during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Commanders on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

It’s no secret that Jalen Hurts struggles against the blitz. Head coach Nick Sirianni acknowledged it as fact earlier this week and promised he had “ways that we’re going to fix it.” Remember, the Bucs blitzed Hurts on 75 percent of his dropbacks in Week 3. They only sacked him one time but it had him hearing footsteps. As Paul Domowitch pointed out, Hurts has a 66.3 passer rating versus the blitz in the Eagles’ last eight games. Not good.

AP Photo/Chris O’Meara