TAMPA, Fla. -- The Baltimore Ravens might be the NFL's top-rated defense, with very few weaknesses, but one area the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will try to exploit in Week 15 is how the unit has fared against tight ends.
The Ravens have given up 73 catches to opposing tight ends this season, tied for fourth-most in the NFL, and their 858 receiving yards allowed to tight ends is the seventh-most. Tight ends have also caught 73 percent of their targets, meaning it could be another big week for Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and Cameron Brate, who connected on two touchdowns Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
The reason? The Ravens aren't afraid to throw the kitchen sink at opposing quarterbacks -- blitzing seven at times while playing man coverage -- meaning tight ends and slot receivers can slip behind aggressive linebackers, 10 to 15 yards from the line of scrimmage.
"Those checkdown guys, guys working the middle of the field, some of the quicker, easier throws, getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands -- those are gonna be big for us," said Brate, who will be chipping quite a bit in an effort to slow down the rush and buy Winston more time.
"The longer we sit back there holding onto the ball gives their good rushers more time to get to the quarterback. So whether that's me, whether that's [slot receiver] Adam [Humphries], any of the receivers, running backs -- I would say that the checkdowns and the short throws are definitely going to be pretty viable this week."
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, whom the Ravens hit a staggering 15 times and sacked three times in Week 14, hooked up with Travis Kelce seven times for 77 receiving yards and a touchdown. Fellow tight ends David Njoku, C.J. Uzomah, Vance McDonald, Greg Olsen, Austin Hooper and Ben Watson were relatively successful against this defense underneath, with most of their yardage coming after the catch.
All six of the Ravens' touchdowns given up to tight ends this season have been on plays that began in the red zone, fourth-most in the league. The Ravens' 120 fantasy points given up to tight ends are ninth-most in the league. Meanwhile, the Bucs' 10 touchdowns from tight ends in the red zone are third-most, even with O.J. Howard now on injured reserve.
The red zone is where Brate and Winston have been successful, devoting several minutes after every practice the past four years specifically to passes there. Brate's six touchdown catches in the red zone this season are tied for third in the league.
"Me and him have a ton of confidence in each other," Brate said of Winston. "We kinda have a good feel for [each other]. He's got a good feel for where I'm gonna be. I've got a good feel for kind of where he's thinking he's gonna put the ball, so -- I would say, especially down in the red zone because we've worked on those throws so many times -- I would say we're pretty confident in one another in those situations for sure."
Winston echoed that.
"Me and Cam have had a connection since I've been playing quarterback here. He's one of my great friends," Winston said. "When teams decide to double Mike [Evans] like that, a lot of guys get their opportunities. Cam executed on his opportunities last week."