Through five games this year, New Orleans Saints Tight End Jimmy Graham had 37 catches for 593 yards and six TDs. He led the NFL in receiving yards and first downs for all receivers and Tight Ends. His last four games, Graham had at least 100 yards receiving and the Saints won all of them.
On Sunday against the New England Patriots, Graham was targeted six times and failed to catch a pass. It was the first time since October 31, 2010 that Graham failed to get a reception in a game. That came in his rookie year and just his second year playing football since high school. That year, he was the No. 2 Tight End and wasn’t targeted in five of the first seven games he played in. Sunday was the first time in his career that he was targeted at least once and did not catch a pass.
The Patriots threw multiple looks at Graham, but the one that seemed to work the best was putting Aqib Talib on him. the 6-foot-1, 205-pound corner played him physically and was able to stay with him on the field. Most teams try to put Linebackers or Safeties on him because of his size, but the Patriots went with a physical corner who is one of the top man-to-man guys in the NFL. When you look at the box score and see that Talib didn’t receive a statistic other than one pass defended, it won’t tell you about his impact on the game.
During the third quarter, Talib limped off the field for one play. He came back on for one play and then limped off again and did not return with a hip flexor injury. Even without Talib, the Patriots stuck to their original plan and left a corner on Graham. In the fourth quarter, Kyle Arrington intercepted a pass intended for Graham. The ball sailed high and replays showed that Graham was limping on his route and couldn’t jump for the ball. The physical play of the Patriots took a toll on Graham and he had to leave the game for a few minutes.
When Graham came back in, Drew Brees threw a deep pass to him in the end zone that hit his hands but was knocked away. That was the last time Graham was targeted in the game and his inability to make a play ended up costing the Saints the game. Other teams may not have the personnel to stop Graham, but the Patriots may have laid out a blueprint in how to do so.