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OJ Howard

Why O.J. Howard is the main X-Factor for the Buccaneers in Week 6 vs. Carolina

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the most confusing team in the NFL. They have a loss to the New York Giants and a win against the Los Angeles Rams. They’ve yet to win consecutive games, yet they remain in the thick of the NFC playoff race.

When Tampa Bay does win, it’s usually on account of quarterback Jameis Winston and the offense. Wide receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are deadly targets, with small doses of running backs Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones sprinkled in.

One feature of the offense that’s been practically nonexistent is the tight end position. Starter O.J. Howard has been a massive disappointment, failing to surpass 50 yards receiving in all but one game. But there are brighter times ahead, namely in week 6 against the Carolina Panthers.

At this point, you may be thinking that I’m an idiot. Howard was shut down last time these two teams met. The Panthers have also been elite against tight ends to this point, allowing a grand total of 91 yards receiving to the position all year long. But Howard’s success won’t necessarily come from production. If he’s able to draw defensive attention away from his teammates, it’ll be counted as a win.

Howard, an Alabama product, 6’6″, and weighs 242 pounds. With that stature, he’s the ideal red-zone threat. It’ll be in that area of the field where the Panthers must pay extra attention to Howard. If he’s left in one-on-one coverage inside the 20-yard line, Winston should be looking his way every time.

If he’s doubled, either Godwin or Evans is in single coverage. Howard will be used to put the defense in an impossible situation. A defense just doesn’t have the resources to double cover three guys, so the Panthers will be forced to pick their poison.

While Howard is mainly known as a pass-catcher, he can make contributions in other ways. Head coach Bruce Arians isn’t afraid to deploy him at fullback, where he helps clear lanes for a middling ground game.

The Bucs are missing starting right guard Alex Cappa, and right tackle DeMar Dotson is questionable for Sunday’s game. If the ground game struggles, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich could look to Howard in an effort to clear running lanes. It may be unorthodox, but don’t count it out if the ground game struggles out of the gate.