Ravens Chalk Talk With Babes: How To Defend Jimmy Graham

Featured, Sports and Bets — November 19, 2014 at 6:57 pm by

We’re starting a new segment here on charmcitywire.com. I’ll be breaking down the X’s and O’s of a matchup in the upcoming Ravens game.  This week, as the Ravens travel to the Superdome to take on the Saints Monday night, we’ll take a closer look at how to limit the beast, Jimmy Graham.

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First off, if you’re  defensive coordinator, you go in hoping to at best contain him.  At 6’7″ and 265 pounds with athleticism in abundance, there isn’t a human being alive besides Lebron James who could match up against Graham straight up.  Therefore, you need a combination of looks to hope to contain Graham.  The first rule of defensive game planning is to not allow the opposing offense’s best asset to beat you.  Graham is by far the Saints best asset in the passing game and therefore priority number one.
Many teams make the mistake of only trying to bracket coverage on Graham.  Bracketing coverage means a linebacker covers him underneath, with a safety helping over the top.  This works sometimes as he is essentially being double teamed.  But too often he can find the open void in the coverage with the help of Sean Payton’s play calling.  Bill Belichek has had success containing Graham by putting his best corner on Graham and shadowing him all over the field.  If you have a premier corner, this is a very useful strategy.  In the past the Saints have had a receiving core that could scare you enough not to do that, but this season I don’t feel that’s the case.

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In the case of the Ravens, given their current state in the secondary, the best attack on Graham is to use a combination of man, matchup zone, and bracketing.  There are pros and cons to each approach given the Ravens personnel situation in the secondary.  They can’t employ the Belichek method, because without a healthy Jimmy Smith, they don’t have a corner who can match up.  They can get away with using a small amount of man with Lardarius Webb.  Webb is the Ravens best healthy cover man, and he has experience playing inside covering slot receivers.  This would help the Ravens by having a speedy cover man to follow Graham up the seam, or on one of those famous wheel routes Payton likes to send Graham on.  The cons of this method are the size mismatch of the 6’7″ Graham versus the 5’10” Webb.  Graham could run stick routes literally all day without Webb being able to get around his huge frame.  The Saints would also have a considerable advantage with Graham lining up inline with the running game.  With Webb covering Graham, that is one less linebacker or safety that would be lined up in the box to help in the run game.  A corner in the box is like a wasted run defender, and although Graham isn’t a good blocker, he could use his sheer mass to engulf Webb and leave a gap open in the Ravens run fit.  So man coverage should only be used in certain situations like second or third and long, or in two minute situations.

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The second method of attack is to use CJ Mosley and Lardarius Webb in a matchup zone scheme.  Matchup zone means a particular player will follow an offensive player pre-snap, which gives the appearance of man coverage; then on the snap, play zone from that point on.  The advantage of this method is the disguise of zone coverage.  Brees will see Webb or Mosley follow Graham pre snap, and by under the false assumption the Ravens are in man.  Webb could drop out to cover the intermediate/middle routes while Mosley can handle the underneath crossers and stick routes.  This gives Graham a tougher time to catch the stick route with the bigger bodied Mosley on him, and it gives the secondary the optimum chance at defending the dig and curl routes with Webb behind and being able to sit on those.  The disadvantage of this is eventually Brees and Payton will recognize it and exploit it with out-breaking routes that Mosley will have a tough time defending.  This matchup zone is best used in medium to go situations where play action pass is expected.

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The third method of bracketing coverage will likely be the most frequently used method.  As mentioned before, this allows the Ravens to essentially deploy two players to take out Graham.  This will do the job of limiting Graham, but it leaves voids in the rest of the coverage.  Also, Graham has the ability to make contested catches with safeties or linebackers draped all over him because of his special talent.  So even this method isn’t foolproof to stopping Graham.
It’s all a chess match in the NFL, and this week the Ravens are challenging Bobby Fischer.  Sean Payton is the best play caller in the NFL, and he will find ways to get Graham one-on-one.  It’s sad to say for defenses that he doesn’t even have to get him open,  he just has to get him one-on-one coverage.  It’s gonna take a combination of all the aforementioned coverage methods, along with a career day from our secondary, to make this happen against Jimmy Graham.  Let’s hope Deen Pees is up for his match with Sean Payton.

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cover pic: zimbio

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