TAMPA, Fla. — With the wind swirling around Raymond James Stadium and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers surging, the Eagles offense remained stagnant.
By the time Boston Scott found the end zone to prevent the Eagles from getting shut out, the 31-15 loss to the Bucs in the NFC wild-card round on Sunday was all but decided. Tampa Bay’s top-ranked passing attack lived up to its title, but the Eagles’ No. 1 rushing attack was absent for most of the game.
Slow first halves had become the norm for the Eagles in the last month or so, but they had gotten away with it against lesser competition. On the road against the No. 2-seeded Bucs, the lack of execution cost them.
“The mistakes get amplified,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said after the game. “You can’t turn the ball over three times like we did today and beat a quarterback like Tom Brady or a team like the Tampa Bay Bucs or a coach like [Bruce] Arians or a coach like [Tampa defensive coordinator] Todd Bowles.”
The Eagles offense managed just one first down on its first three drives and had five altogether in the first half. They went into halftime with only 35 rushing yards.
Bowles had his front seven well prepared for the zone-read aspect of the Eagles’ running game, which has been at the center of its effectiveness throughout the season. Similar to the defensive scheme in the team’s regular-season meeting in Week 6, Tampa Bay often scraped a linebacker to the weak side and sent extra rushers at times to disrupt the read plays in the backfield.
“I thought the defensive game plan from Tampa was pretty good,” Sirianni said. “Some of the run blitzes they had on, there were some things ... we would have liked to have some more runs early on, but you have to adjust to the way they’re blitzing things off the edge.”
Because of the way the Bucs were loading the box and blitzing gaps to combat the run, Sirianni called a plethora of screen passes. The Eagles had 17 rushing attempts compared to 43 passing attempts.
After the game, Sirianni said he’d shoulder the blame for not coming up with better solutions to the Bucs’ defensive game plan.
“I think there were probably four or five runs that we ended up getting out of and we split it out to the perimeter because of their run blitz,” Sirianni said. “They did a good job of rallying to it. So, I take that responsibility — we weren’t good enough with our answers against some of the run blitzes.”
The Eagles also had some offensive miscues in the run game early on. Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert said he missed a blocking assignment on the team’s first third-down conversion attempt and failed to pick up a blitzing linebacker.
“It was disappointing because we could have had some big plays early on,” Goedert said. “Great play calls that, as players, we didn’t execute as good as we should have.”
Mostly thanks to some explosive run plays in garbage time, the Eagles finished the game with 95 rushing yards. It’s still the fewest they’ve had since Week 5 and the third-lowest total they’ve had all season.
The Eagles offense was at its best all year when the run game was dominant and the passing game could play off of it. With Tampa Bay neutralizing the run and loading up the box, Hurts struggled to keep drives alive with his arm.
The team went 10 straight drives without scoring and Hurts had two interceptions while completing 53% of his passes.
DeVonta Smith finished with 11 targets, but it took nearly the entire first half for him to be involved. A penalty nullified the first time the ball went his way, so his first official target came with just over one minute remaining in the second half.
Sirianni said the Bucs’ game plan combined with the lack of sustained drives played into Smith’s slow start, but conceded he could have done more to involve the first-round rookie receiver.
Smith finished with four catches for 60 yards and made an impressive catch against double coverage on a successful two-point conversion.
“The defense dictates some of that,” Sirianni said. “We really didn’t have a good drive until our third or fourth drive, where it was a sustained drive. No doubt, I mean, that’s my job to get DeVonta going earlier, because he’s a heck of a football player. Of course we want to get him going. There’s different things that play into that, but I’ll accept that. It starts with me, regardless with how the drives were going. Definitely got to get him going earlier.”
“Early on, the defense forced the ball to go somewhere else,” Sirianni added. “So you want to get him going, but you also don’t want to force it.”