To say that O.J. Howard has had a disappointing season thus far would be a massive understatement. It’s been frustrating - especially for the fans - to see a weapon like Howard so drastically under utilized when he’s one of the most athletically gifted tight ends in the league.
Bruce Arians spoke to the media about Howard’s usage and what has led to him not getting the targets many expected him to;
“Part of it’s game planning, part of it’s opportunities in the game. He’s got to catch it – he dropped two balls last week. That hurts, so seeing him catching it and getting 15 yards – that’s big. But the other part is opportunity. A lot of stuff that we’ve had for him in the red zone just hasn’t happened. We go into a game with 100-and-some plays and the game dictates sometimes what happens, but part of the time when we have game planned for him, they take it out of the way.”
Now, it seems like a little bit of “coach speak” to say that Howard has been taken out of the game by opposing defenses. Howard is a human mismatch, regardless if he’s being covered by a linebacker or a corner. And for a team that is still desperately seeking a third wide receiver, utilizing Howard in that role makes too much sense.
Yes, his blocking has been a key factor. Yes, he’s run routes specifically to be a decoy - pulling a safety down to cover him, allowing Mike Evans or Chris Godwin to take advantage of one-on-one coverage without any safety help over the top. A lot of what Howard has done won’t show up on a stat sheet.
But the Bucs need him to start showing up on the stat sheet.
The Titans are susceptible to giving up receptions, yards, and touchdowns to opposing tight ends. As good as the Titans’ defense is, they are the fourth worst when defending against the position. On the flip side, the Buccaneers are second only to the Cardinals as the worst in the league against the tight end.
If the Buccaneers ever had the opportunity to get Howard going, it’s now. Over the next three games, they will face three of the four worst defenses against the tight end position. If they don’t, they might as well call the Patriots back and give Howard the opportunity to shine elsewhere.