How do you game plan the Saints Jimmy Graham?

Watching the Saints-Raiders game last night, is there any doubt that Jimmy Graham is going to be a matchup nightmare for defenses this season? I saw the Saints TE aligned im multiple positions, run various route concepts and show us why he can use his athletic ability to go get the football.

No different than breaking down the Packers Jermichael Finley vs. the Colts, Graham is going to force opposing defensive coordinators to game plan for his unique skill set. That got me thinking: how do you game plan for Graham with Drew Brees at QB? Here is what I would do with a week to prep for the Saints with my base coverages…

Jimmy GrahamICONIt isn't easy to come up with a game plan to shut down Saints TE Jimmy Graham.

- Play some Cover 7. Think combination-man with specific calls built into the defense. One of those calls is a “slice” technique. A double (“in and out”) on a receiver aligned inside of the numbers. Use a Nickel corner and the free safety to bracket Graham and take away both inside and outside breaking routes in the short to intermediate passing game. A good call when the Saints move Graham outside of the core of the formation.

(Click here for a chalkboard breakdown on Cover 7)

- Tampa 2. I know, it sounds too simple, right? However, if you can play the technique of the defense, Cover 2 is an ideal way to limit the deep ball in the middle of the field. Think of the Bears defense (the Week 2 Saints opponent) and the play of Mike Backer Brian Urlacher. Run the inside vertical seam and get the overlap from the two deep safeties. And if the Saints align Graham as a backside “X” receiver, use the re-route from the CB to disrupt his release. You can take away the vertical game with Cover 2.

(Click here for a chalkboard breakdown of Tampa 2)

- Have to show some Cover 1. This is tough, because of the personnel you have to choose from. Inside of the 20-yard line, I would recommend keeping your CBs away from Graham. They won’t match up to the size and athletic ability on the 3-step slant or the fade (two routes you will see inside the 20-yard line). Forget a LB and go with your best cover safety in a press-position. Play with a physical approach, use your hands and open the hips to defend the ball down the field. And always play up through the hands of Graham at the point of attack.

- Play some Cover 0 (blitz with no safety help). This takes some guts vs. the Saints to send all out pressure with no deep middle of the field help, but think of the technique of "zero-man" vs. Graham. Align in an off-position (7-yards) with inside leverage and “flat-foot” read (no backpedal) through the 3-step game. Ball is going to come out quickly and you can drive to a cut-off point to make the play. No question this is risky, but if you want to beat Brees and the Saints offense, you can’t hide all day long.

-The ideal coverage for Graham? Opening night in Green Bay. Because I don’t see a player in the NFL that can matchup better than the Packers Charles Woodson. Physical, size and athletic ability to run with the Saints TE. And that's a battle I want to see.

What would you play vs. Graham? Let me know...

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