By STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published October 22, 2006
Trent Cole vs. Jeremy Trueblood: Cole, an end, leads the Eagles with six sacks, meaning Trueblood's protection skills at right tackle will be tested. Trueblood has held up pretty well as the starter the past two weeks, but this is a tougher test.
David Akers vs. Matt Bryant: Because the Bucs can't help but play close games every week, it stands to reason the kickers could play an important role in this one. That might not bode so well for the Bucs considering Bryant is struggling. His 43-yard miss against Cincinnati last week made him 2-for-5 this season. His makes are from 22 and 28 yards while he has missed from 43 (twice) and 45. The sure-footed Akers is 6-for-8 with misses from 49 and 39 yards.
William Thomas vs. Simeon Rice: Everyone seems to be calling out Rice these days because of the end's lack of sacks (just one). If he can produce against a formidable tackle such as Thomas, maybe Rice will silence a growing number of critics. Rice has pointed to this game against McNabb, his high school friend, as one he has looked forward to.
The basics: The Eagles are on their way to turning around a 6-10 record from last season, and the biggest reason might be their explosive offense.
Philadelphia ranks first in the NFL in yards per game (402.3), yards per play (6.6) and passing yards per game (290.8). At the center of it all is the improved play of Donovan McNabb, who owns the league's best quarterback rating at 104.8. The All-Pro has overcome an injury-plagued 2005 and his public feud with former teammate Terrell Owens and emerged with what could become his best season.
McNabb has been extremely efficient, becoming the first NFL quarterback to begin a season with at least 1,500 passing yards and 10 touchdown passes and no more than one interception through five games.
But McNabb can't do it alone nor is he trying to. The Eagles have been winning with numerous big plays and are spreading the wealth.
Brian Westbrook has a 71-yard touchdown run. Hank Baskett has an 87-yard touchdown catch. McNabb has four completions of 60 or more yards - to Baskett, Matt Schobel, L.J. Smith and Reggie Brown. No wonder the Eagles are averaging 29.8 points.
On defense, Philadelphia has given up its share of points and yards.
But one thing the Eagles do consistently is force turnovers. Their 13 takeaways rank fifth in the league, including eight interceptions.
Look for the Eagles to throw different looks at Bruce Gradkowski in an effort to confuse the young Bucs quarterback and force more turnovers.
The Eagles have a league-best 23 sacks led by end Trent Cole (six) and tackle Darwin Walker (four). Walker had three against the Cowboys two weeks ago.
Buc beater: In his past two regular-season games against Tampa Bay, safety Brian Daw-kins has 15 tackles, a pass deflec-tion and a forced fumble. He enters today's game with 53 total tackles in 2006, third on the team.
Series: The Eagles lead 8-7 overall but are 2-2 at Tampa. The Bucs have won the past two with the last being Sept. 8, 2003. The one before that is easy to remember: the 2002 NFC Championship at Philadelphia.
KEEP IN MIND: The Eagles have the best road record in the NFL since 2000: 35-16. In 2004, the Eagles tied a team record with nine consecutive road victories (seventh best in NFL history). Philadelphia is 2-1 on the road this season, dropping its first one last week 27-24 against New Orleans.
Bucs: Out - Quarterback Chris Simms (splenectomy). Questionable - Tight end Anthony Becht (foot), cornerback Juran Bolden (hip), receiver/punt returner Mark Jones (hamstring), cornerback Brian Kelly (toe), linebacker Shelton Quarles (knee), defensive end Simeon Rice (shoulder), receiver Maurice Stovall (back).
Eagles: Doubtful - Cornerback Roderick Hood (heel). Questionable - Linebacker Shawn Barber (neck), defensive end Darren Howard (groin), receiver Donte Stallworth (hamstring), Westbrook (knee). Probable - Offensive tackle William Thomas (back), receiver Brown (quadriceps), safety Sean Considine (shoulder), Dawkins (wrist), guard Todd Herremans (knee), running back Reno Mahe (ankle), linebacker Matt McCoy (hip), cornerback Lito Sheppard (hand/groin), Smith (shoulder).