Thursday, April 26, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs defense braces for Eagles' fast-paced offense

TAMPA — Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy snapped his fingers — one-two-three — trying to keep up with how quickly the Eagles offense ran plays as he watched game recordings this week.

"I'm like, 'They can't be running plays this fast,' " McCoy said Wednesday, speeding himself up in preparation for Sunday's game against Philadelphia and first-year coach Chip Kelly, who installed the uptempo offense he ran at Oregon.

The Eagles' 68.8 plays from scrimmage per game don't lead the league — six teams average more — but nobody moves faster; one play about every 22.7 seconds.

That's nearly five seconds faster than the Bucs, which means five fewer seconds for a defense to regroup and prepare for an offense that gains 6.6 yards per play (third in the league).

"They're the most uptempo team … in our league," said Bucs coach Greg Schiano, whose team's 4.3 yards per play is better than only the Jaguars' 4.0. "They're humming right now; a well-oiled machine."

Bucs rookie receiver Russell Shepard, who spent four months with the Eagles before being cut in late August, said the best way to beat the offense is with physical play: "You hit (them) in the mouth."

His coach likes that approach as well.

"There aren't any tricks," Schiano said. "We don't control the tempo. They do. Now if you hit them hard, that helps. They don't get up as fast.

"Make no mistake, it's a big challenge. Right now, we're talking about stopping that offense, which right now is … at historic levels if it continues at this pace."

Another way to slow down that offense? Keep it off the field. One unit that has piled up more plays than it is … the Eagles defense, which has been on the field a league-high 73.6 plays per game. Only the Redskins have allowed more than the Eagles' 434.0 yards per game, and only the Giants and Jaguars have given up more than their 31.8 points per game.

So the Bucs offense can help its defense by playing keepaway.

"They're definitely an explosive offense," said Bucs rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, who will make his second start. "We know we're going to have to do our share on offense to score points and stay on the field as long as possible."

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is on pace for 2,240 yards of offense, and receiver DeSean Jackson already has 525 yards, combining for serious big-play potential. While the Eagles are second in the league in yards per game (454.8) and eighth in points at 27.0, they are second-to-last in time of possession, which is to say they are efficient in moving the ball.

Most good defenses preach swarming to the ball. But this week, the Bucs might actually have to swarm away as well.

That's the lesson Bucs rookie cornerback Deveron Carr learned at Arizona State in facing Kelly's offense. Arizona State players were instructed to hurry back into position so as not to be caught off-guard by the next play.

"If a corner, if a D lineman's not where he's supposed to be, they're going to capitalize on it," said Carr, whose Sun Devils allowed an average of 42.5 points in four losses to the Ducks.

At Washington, Bucs linebacker Mason Foster also faced Oregon four times.

"He's like an evil genius," Foster said of Kelly. "He's always finding ways to get linebackers isolated in space on one of his fast running backs. I look forward to the challenge. It's always exciting to play against a high-powered offense like that."

Foster's Huskies allowed 48.8 points in four losses to the Ducks.

"It's definitely tough," he said. "It forces you to be on top of everything."

Schiano sees quickness in every detail — how plays are signaled in, how players return to the line after a play, the way the ball is handed to officials — combining to cut fractions of seconds off the time the defense has to adjust between downs.

"When you see the big plays, it's not like some … extravagant scheme," Schiano said. "The (defensive) guys aren't quite in their stance. They're in the vicinity, but they're not quite ready to go. And when (LeSean McCoy) has the ball in his hands, at times, it looks like a video game. Some of the cuts he makes, humans aren't supposed to be able to do that, so it's pretty special."

Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report.

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