The X-Factors: Deciding Who Needs To Step Up For The Eagles Against The Buccaneers
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For many players on the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday's playoff matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be their first time experiencing postseason football at the professional level. Unfortunately, however, their opponent is led by the best quarterback of all time, Tom Brady. For context on how experienced Brady is in the playoffs, consider this; throughout his career, Brady has played in 45 playoff games. That is just one short of what the Philadelphia Eagles have as a franchise since 1933.
Despite the wide gaps in experience, the Eagles definitely have a shot at winning this game. It's going to take near-flawless performances from the guys you would expect such as Jalen Hurts, Fletcher Cox, etc. But, an Eagles victory will also require lesser-known players, on both sides of the ball, to really step up. I detail those players, two from the offense and two from the defense, down below and the impact they can have on Sunday's game.
Quez Watkins: WR
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Watkins has been pretty solid for the Eagles this year, catching 43 passes for 647 yards. While long-term I like Watkins projection as WR3, with Jalen Reagor looking like an absolute bust, Watkins needs to make some big plays against Tampa's secondary. Todd Bowles, the Bucs defensive coordinator, will give his best players the difficult assignments of covering Devonta Smith & Dallas Godert. With those two drawing the attention of this Bucs defense, Quez has the ability to make some big plays. In what is undoubtedly the biggest game of his young career, Quez can really shine and he almost has to if the Eagles want to win this game.
Nate Herbig: OG
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With how well the offensive line is playing, you would never know that the Eagles are down to their third-string right guard. It's not that Nate Herbig is a bad player, but when you stack him up to the rest of the Eagles line, especially the all-pro center to his left and all-pro tackle to his right, he's without a doubt the weak spot of this line. Last week against the Cowboys, Herbig twisted his ankle and he's been on the Eagles injury report during the lead-up to this game. Herbig hopefully can play through his ankle injury and have a decent enough game against a vicious Bucs defensive line. No one's asking him to have a pro bowl level game, but the Eagles need their third-string right guard to be competent if they expect to win this game.
Milton Williams: DT/DE
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The Eagles 2021 third-round pick started the season off slow but has really started to play well down the stretch. While he doesn't light up the stat sheet, he's constantly creating pressure and seemingly makes a big play when the Eagles need him to the most. Josh Sweat, arguably the best defensive lineman the Eagles have on their roster, may miss Sunday's game due to a non-COVID-19 related sickness. If Sweat misses the game, the team may decide it's best to move Fletcher Cox to defensive end and let Williams attack from the inside. Milton could also play the entire game from the edge position, which is something he's normally not tasked with. In the event Sweat doesn't play, the Eagles are going to need a big game from Williams to generate constant pressure against Tom Brady.
Steven Nelson: CB
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Signed to a one-year deal during the offseason, Steven Nelson has proven himself as a reliable outside CB2. Luckily for Nelson, the once potent Bucs passing game is much less dangerous with Chris Godwin on IR and Antonio Brown inexplicably quitting against the Jets two weeks ago. With Darius Slay set to cover one of Tom Brady's favorite targets, Mike Evans, one would think that Nelson might have an easy matchup against the Bucs WR4 or WR5. That is until you remember that a person named Rob Gronkowski exists. With Godwin & Brown out, Gronk is once again becoming a focal point for the Bucs offense. Brady's security blanket will have to be shadowed by Nelson, who is incredibly undersized compared to the prolific tight end. If Nelson can control the damage Gronkowski creates (no one can expect him to shut Gronk down), then the Eagles will have a shot at winning this game.
While I do think the Eagles can win this game, I truly think it's more likely than not that they lose this one. But that's ok! This team has a lot of young talent on the roster and is in prime position to add more with 3 first-round picks in the 2022 NFL draft. No one expected them to make it this far, so win or lose this season is a success. Let's cheer them on until the very end.