As Saturday night inches closer and closer, there’s been a lot of discussion about various match-ups the Eagles will face against the Saints. We all the know the Saints play much better at home, but their 3-5 road record this year isn’t something that can be taken lightly.
Come Saturday, there’s one player that peaks my attention. That player is tight end Jimmy Graham. At 6-7 and 265 pounds, Graham is a freak who is labeled as a tight end but is more or less an additional wide receiver for the Saints. He’s had an impressive year, with 86 reception, 1,215 yards, and 16 touchdowns. In fact, Graham has nine more catches, 34 more targets, 272 more yards, and 11 more touchdowns than any other New Orleans receiver.
So the big question is how do you stop Graham from having a big game? That’s a question I can’t answer with any certainty. If I could, Chip Kelly would have called me by now. I’m sure he and Billy Davis have had plenty of conversations about how they will attempt to slow down Graham.
There’s no denying that it will be extremely difficult for the Eagles to win if Graham has a big night. They are coming off a game in which they let Cowboys tight end Jason Witten record 12 receptions for 135 yards. This was a season high for Witten in both receptions and yards. At the end of the day, that was a game they nearly lost and Witten’s contributions had a lot to do with it.
So who will cover Graham on Saturday night? There is no Eagles defensive player who can match-up with Graham’s height. Connor Barwin has the best height at 6-4, but he’s not the guy you want running up and down the field with Graham all night. Mychal Kendricks has better speed, but not the type of speed to keep up with Graham. Kendricks also stands at 6-0.
Brandon Boykin, the Eagles much improved slot corner, has the speed to run with Graham, but he stands at just 5-10. He has great vertical jumping ability, but at ground level, he’s already at a nine inch disadvantage.
So what about one of the other corners? I’ve always been a fan of matching up a specific corner when a team has a tremendous receiver. This isn’t something we’ve seen the Eagles do historically, but I think this would be a good opportunity to start.
Personally, I’d like to see Cary Williams on Graham all night. Williams stands at 6-1 and could get up on the line and be physical with Graham. He can really create havoc if he’s coming free off the line all night.
With Williams on Graham, the Eagles could then put Bradley Fletcher on Marques Colston, another tall receiving option for Drew Brees. This would allow Boykin to match-up with smaller, speedier receivers like Kenny Stills and Lance Moore.
Additionally, this would allow the linebackers to focus on the Saints running backs, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas who have combined for 148 of New Orleans’ 446 receptions this year (33%).
There is no surefire way to stop Graham. Quite frankly, the Eagles defense isn’t going to be able to stop him. However, they’re going to need to do everything they can to slow him down. If not, it’s going to be a long night for the Eagles.