Their edge has to be their defense against a rookie quarterback, Mike Glennon, making his second career start. Even if the Eagles start Nick Foles, as seems very likely, the difference between a second-year QB and a second-game QB ought to be considerable. The Eagles' defense needs to make sure it is.
"It gives us an edge. No question - inexperience. We want to use that inexperience to our advantage. Pressure him, put him under duress as much as possible," Eagles corner Cary Williams said this week. "We're still trying to build. We're still trying to communicate. We're still trying to get to know each other, get a feel for each other. We made some great strides last week. We look to build on those things . . . Get in the film room together, talk through some plays. When we do those things, we become the defense we want to become."
Eagles coach Chip Kelly, defensive coordinator Bill Davis and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur all praised Glennon this week, as you would expect. Kelly and Shurmur talked of evaluating him before the draft, in which the Birds eventually took a QB, Matt Barkley, with the first selection of the fourth round, 25 slots after the Bucs took Glennon in the third round, ostensibly to develop behind Josh Freeman. But high regard aside, they expect to find things to exploit.
"I think what's important is making sure that if we're in disguise situations, that we can hold our disguises in terms of trying to get them to think one way and then move on to another thing," Kelly said yesterday. "But really, it's not just a rookie quarterback, it's every quarterback - we have to be fundamentally sound in what we do. We can't just say, 'hey, we've got a rookie quarterback, so let's try to put all this new stuff in.' I think sometimes that's what gets you in a lot of trouble, is you almost outthink yourself. We still have to stick to the game plan that we have, within the structure of our defense, and then make sure we're where we're supposed to be when we're supposed to be there."
Linebacker Connor Barwin said he thinks the team did this well last week, and ought to be able to do it again.
"I wouldn't say we fooled Eli, but he didn't get used to any of our looks. I think if we can do that to him, it should work against a rookie quarterback," Barwin said.
"He's one of those rookie quarterbacks that's probably going through what all rookies [do]," Shurmur said of Glennon. "I've had a chance to be around a few of them. But he's a guy that's going to be able to win games in this league."
Davis said Glennon "sees the field well for a rookie" and has a commanding vantage point, at 6-7, 225.
Linebacker Brandon Graham said he thinks the Birds need to get into Glennon's head. It might be worth noting that the Eagles haven't been able to consistently pressure a QB throughout a game since the opener against Washington.
"You gotta get his mind off what he's gotta do and get him worried about the d-line," Graham said. "When you're worried about pressure, it changes the game. We gotta rattle him a little bit . . . I believe he's confident, from what I've seen on film. He can make the throws."
The Bucs will want to take some of the heat off Glennon with their running game, led by Doug Martin, who is averaging 25 carries a game. (Defenses tend to key on Martin, without a strong passing attack, given Freeman's struggles, which led to his release, and Glennon's inexperience.) Martin has managed 342 yards on 100 carries, 3.4 yards a pop.
"The majority [of the challenge] is going to be stopping the run," Graham said. "We gotta make sure we stop Doug . . . when we look at film, [the Eagles' breakdowns against the run] are more technical than anything. Effort is not the problem . . . Each game we've been getting better. Last week we got a whole lot better."
The Giants lost their top running back, David Wilson, in the first quarter. The fossilized remains of Brandon Jacobs gained 37 yards on 11 carries, and lost a fumble. Overall, the Giants gained 53 yards on just 17 runs.
"If we hold the Bucs to that, we'll be just fine," Barwin said.
The run can help Glennon, but it's hard to envision a team that can only run the ball beating a Kelly offense, whether Foles or Vick is at the helm. The focal point is the Bucs' QB.
"No question, they have great players around him. They've got a great running game, good pass receivers . . . but at the end of the day, we feel like we're facing a rookie quarterback," Williams said. "Whenever I get a rookie quarterback, I respect him, but at the end of the day, he's going to have to go out there and make throws."
On Twitter: @LesBowen