On Saturday, the Bucs not only face their division rival in the New Orleans Saints, they face the best tight end in the NFL.
Jimmy Graham had his way with the Bucs last season. In two games against Tampa Bay, Graham had 15 receptions for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns. As a matter of fact, the Saints are 4-0 since the Bucs selected safety Mark Barron with a top 10 pick in the 1st round of the 2012 draft.
“We took [safety] Mark Barron in the first round simply because of Jimmy Graham,” former special assistant to Greg Schiano, Butch Davis said recently.
The Bucs defense has been a work in progress this season, but top tight ends have had their way in the Bucs soft zone.
“They just found an open guy,” Verner said. “It just so happens, especially last week, the tight end was hot and they were trying to get him the ball. They could have possibly thrown those passes to Antonio Brown, but they went to the tight end. I wouldn’t say that is a weakness for us. That is just that person has found that type of success."
I guess I understand that logic to an extent. Verner is right. It did seem like Ben Roethlisberger could have gone anywhere with the ball and have success. Unfortunately for Verner, Drew Brees' first read on most plays is to his big tight end.
“He can do it all," Lovie Smith said of Jimmy Graham. "He’s a special athlete, big target with his size, can catch the ball and you never know where he’ll be on any play, outside or inside, they’re moving him around, but he’s a tough matchup one-on-one because of his size and who has to guard him."
While most of the focus in this game will be on the Saints tight end, the Bucs rookie tight end might be in for a big day as well. With Mike Evans likely out with a groin injury, Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be in for a breakout game against a poor Saints defense.
“He’s a tough matchup," Bucs interim offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said of Seferian-Jenkins. "He’s a big, big solid [player] and we’re excited about some of the things he does. He’s another element that we’re glad to have back. Tough matchup and we’ll continue to find ways to put him against guys in the middle to help us out.”
Much like Jimmy Graham, Seferian-Jenkins presents matchup nightmares for the Saints, who might not have an ideal guy to cover him. Saints LBs Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne are liabilities in coverage, while safeties Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro would present a huge size advantage in favor of the Buccaneers.
It is a foregone conclusion that the Saints will score their fair share of points at home. If the Bucs get into a "passing" mode to try and keep up, Seferian-Jenkins might see his first of many big days in the NFL.
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