Coming into Sunday's game against the Patriots, Jimmy Graham was an unstoppable force at tight end. In five games, he had already racked up 37 receptions, 593 yards, and six touchdowns. He was not able to add to any of those totals in Foxborough, as he was shut down entirely by Aqib Talib and others when Talib went down with a hip injury.
Talib has been making a name for himself as a elite shutdown corner capable of neutralizing opposing team's best offensive weapons. Julio Jones, A.J Green, and now Graham are superstars who have been smothered by Talib so far this year. Many speculated Talib would line up opposite Graham Sunday, and it proved to be a favorable match-up for the Patriots.
|Matthew J. Lee/Boston Globe Staff|
When Talib went down with a hip flexor injury, it felt like Graham and the New Orleans offense were gearing up to put the game away against a depleted Patriots defense. But no coach in the NFL is as good at making in-game adjustments as Bill Belichick. Devin McCourty rotated from safety to shadow Graham, with rookie Duron Harmon filling in at safety. Kyle Arrington snared a pick on an overthrow from Brees intended for the big tight end. Graham was unable to secure a single grab over the course of the entire game. Following the game, McCourty spoke to the match-up problems Graham presents, and how the entire defense stepped up to contain him (Quote from BostonHerald.com):
''You've got to try to do everything (to stop him). The guy is a great football player,'' McCourty said. ''A guy with his size and athleticism that can line up inside and outside, I think that's what makes it tough. Sometimes, he puts guys inside that might not be used to plaing inside and all, but guys did a good job tonight just stepping up and going out there and just playing football.''
New England's star tight end, Rob Gronkowski, has been surrounded by mounting negativity as many inside and outside of the organization believe he should be playing on Sundays. But according to Tom Brady, in an e-mail sent this morning to Peter King, Gronk was critically important in practice this week as the defense prepared to deal with Graham:
“All of us have seen how badly Rob wants to help us win,’’ Brady wrote. “He has definitely given all he could in practice, especially on the scout teams to replicate the other teams’ best receiver. Though they may seem insignificant during the week, they are a huge reason why teams win.’’
With Talib leading the way, the 2013 Patriot defense continues to impress, and are proving to be excellent at taking opposing team's best players out of the equation.