For the Tampa Bay perspective on Sunday's Eagles/Bucs game, we were able to do a Q & A with Buccaneers reporter Greg Auman,
Greg has covered the Bucs for the past five seasons as a writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and now covers the team for the Athletic. He is one of the most respected NFL writers around and is plugged into the Bucs better than anyone.
He was nice enough to take some time out and provide us with great insight on Sunday's matchup.
Q & A:
BM: Greg, the Bucs surprised a lot of people by going into New Orleans and walking out with a win. One week is a small sample size, but what is different about this Bucs team from the 2017 Bucs team that didn’t win their first division game until week 17? Can they compete?
GA: I think most fans expected the Bucs’ biggest improvements to be on defense this season, and obviously that didn’t show up against the Saints.
The offense, however, took a major step forward, even with backup Ryan Fitzpatrick filling in for a suspended Jameis Winston at quarterback. They scored 24 points on their first four drives, they had six passing plays of 32 yards or longer. They made full use of all the talented options to throw to, and even ran the ball well at times.
If the defense can take a similar step forward, they certainly can compete in a division that produced three playoff teams. They’re not healthy right now, especially at corner, where Vernon Hargreaves went on injured reserve and Brent Grimes has a groin injury. So they’ll lean hard on their defensive line and linebackers to create pressure and ease the burden on young cornerbacks.
BM: Again small sample size, and this may be an overreaction, but is it possible that the Bucs are better off with Fitzpatrick at QB?
GA: Koetter has stressed that the offensive coaches work together in constructing a game plan and call sheet for plays, so the play calling during the game is only part of the process. Having said that, the Bucs offense had a great rhythm against New Orleans and set up Fitzpatrick for consistent smart throws to receivers who had few if any drops. Koetter said the execution was the key to success, so whatever role the playcalling has to help that is a good thing.
GA: I think Curry is a big part of the optimism around an upgraded defensive line. He had the only sack against the Saints, and there’s an appreciation for him being solid against the run as well as getting to the quarterback. In a locker room that hasn’t made the playoffs in 10 years, there’s value in someone who can talk about how winning teams conduct themselves, how a team like the Eagles that didn’t have high expectations entering the season can win a Super Bowl. Jason Pierre-Paul is another new addition bringing this to the Bucs defense.
BM: Give us one reason why the Bucs can pull another upset on Sunday?
GA: If the offense can have half the success with downfield passing as it did in New Orleans, the Bucs will put points up on the board. Tampa Bay won the opener with minimal contributions on defense, so that has to change if they want to stay competitive. Atlanta stifled the Eagles fairly well last week, so I don’t expect a high-scoring game, but I think the Bucs can be right in this if they limit their mistakes.