FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won’t have starting quarterback Jameis Winston (shoulder) Sunday when they host the New York Jets. They won’t have star wide receiver Mike Evans (suspension). And the Bucs (2-6) may not have any memory of what it feels like to win a game. They’ve dropped five straight since a 25-23 triumph over the lowly New York Giants back on Oct. 2.
But the Bucs have two ridiculously talented tight ends in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. That duo, which has seen the field together more in recent weeks, has caught the attention of Gang Green (4-5).
“They’re major problems because they can do a lot of things, obviously,’’ Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “Mismatches on linebackers out wide. Mismatches on some safeties and some corners. They’re talented guys.’’
Brate, at 6-5, 245 pounds, is second on the Bucs with 32 catches for 414 yards and four touchdowns. Howard, the team’s first-round draft choice out of Alabama, has 14 catches, including three for touchdowns. At 6-6, 251 pounds, he’s averaging a gaudy 16.2 yards per reception.
A look at the sort of mismatch the Jets are in for could be seen in the Seahawks’ 22-16 win over the Cardinals on Thursday night. Arizona’s 6-foot, 210-pound safety Tyvon Branch was physically overmatched by Seattle’s 6-7, 265-pound tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham finished with six catches for 27 yards and two touchdowns. Branch was injured on Graham’s first touchdown reception.
“Until they start making 6-7 safeties,’’ Bowles quipped. “You just have to play with leverage; play with technique.’’
When Maye was at Florida he played against Howard. Adams played at LSU, so he also has gone against Howard. Brate played at Harvard. Maye said he wasn’t going to get beat by the Bucs’ terrific tight end tandem.
“You’ve got to know their tendencies, what they like to do, what they don’t like to do and force them there,’’ said Maye. “They're both great players and cause a lot of mismatches. They’ll play three wide receivers and two tight ends because one of them really is a wide receiver.
“In this league, there are challenges every week. You have to trust your skill and preparation. As a safety, you’ve got to be able to adjust. Some plays you’re covering a wide receiver with great speed, other times you’ve got big tight ends.’’
With teams relying so heavily on the passing game, and the NFL being a league of copycats, it will be interesting to see if more teams start loading up on the tight end position.
“Well, you got to find them first,’’ said Bowles. “It’s rare to find two of those guys. But it would be trouble if the whole league started having two great tight ends so hopefully not.’’