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Outstanding Offense Takes on Dominating Defense as Eagles Host Bucs

Thursday, October 17, 2002

By David W. Unkle
SJSports Staff Writer

It will be a classic confrontation of explosive offense vs. daunting defense as the first place Philadelphia Eagles welcome the red-hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia this Sunday in a key NFC showdown.

The Eagles come off a bye week with a 3-2 record, rested and ready to take on Tampa Bay, winners of five consecutive games and owners of the NFL's top-ranked defense that allows 250.7 yards per game. The Buccaneers share first place in the NFC South with the New Orleans Saints at 5-1. The Eagles have won three consecutive games in the series, including a pair of playoff meetings.

Under the direction of head coach ANDY REID and offensive coordinator BRAD CHILDRESS, the Eagles' offense has scored 165 points in five games, most in franchise history over that span. The team is averaging an NFC-best 33 points per game and ranks third in the conference overall in points scored after only five games. Is this success something Childress, in his first season as offensive coordinator and fourth with the club, envisioned?

"I don't know if I envisioned it to the tune of 35 points per game," says Childress. "I just knew we were on the edge of being a well-oiled machine. We started to show signs late last year and I think we have picked up where we left off. Now the challenge is to keep this going throughout the season."

That well-oiled machine is spearheaded by quarterback DONOVAN MC NABB, who is off to the best start of his four-year career. His 90.4 passer rating ranks third in the NFC and he has thrown 11 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. He leads all quarterbacks with 241 yards rushing, including his second career 100-yard rushing game in a Week 5 matchup with Jacksonville.

In three career starts, including playoffs, against the Buccaneers, McNabb, the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Month for September, is a perfect 3-0 with a 93.7 passer rating, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He has also added 89 yards rushing, averaging 7.4 yards per carry.

“I never focus on how many points we can score, I focus on being consistent and having a balanced attack,” says McNabb. “A lot of people question our passing game, but I know that we’ve done a good job over the past couple of years with it. If we can just continue to be consistent and answer some of the questions the defensive coordinators will have for us, the sky’s the limit.”

The Buccaneers’ defense has proved tough to solve for offenses all season. The unit, led by defensive coordinator MONTE KIFFIN, is ranked No. 2 against the run (77.7) and No. 4 against the pass (173.0). Tampa Bay has not allowed an offensive touchdown in its past three games and has excelled both in the red zone and on third downs.

The club has yielded only one touchdown in eight trips inside the red zone for an NFL-leading 12.5 touchdown percentage. The Bucs rank third in the NFL on third downs, allowing a conversion percentage of only 31.3 percent (30 of 96).

“Philadelphia is a great football team and the defending NFC East champions,” says Bucs head coach JON GRUDEN. “It will be a good test for us and a good challenge, especially playing against Donovan McNabb. He’s built like a halfback, he’s very elusive and has a very strong arm. We have to continue to play 11-man football on defense, very disciplined and high energy, and we must control the pocket and limit some of the opportunities that he creates for their offense."

The Buccaneers’ defense has been opportunistic itself, scoring four touchdowns in 2002, the same number it has allowed opposing offenses. Linebacker DERRICK BROOKS has led the defense’s offense, becoming the first linebacker in NFL history with three interception-return touchdowns in a single season.

“We are tackling very well right now,” Gruden says. “We've had a good solid pass rush – at times excellent and at times unbelievably excellent. When you do that, good things are bound to happen.”

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