How can the Baltimore Ravens slow down Jimmy Graham?


Nov 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) prior to kickoff of a game against the Cincinnati Bengals at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

How much of a weapon is Jimmy Graham? Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis readily admitted he was pleased with an illegal hit his team put on Graham, because he thought it slowed Graham down. Needless to say, the Baltimore Ravens and their patchwork pass defense will have their hands full.

We’ve seen the Ravens willing to scheme to handle a top-tier player, as Jimmy Smith spent most of the Ravens’ September 11 win over the Steelers locked on to Antonio Brown. Putting Smith on Graham is obviously not an option, but don’t be surprised if the Ravens try something unique to counter the talented tight end.

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Further, going the Bengals route and hitting Graham illegally is not really an option. So what will the Ravens do?

One option is to shadow Graham with a safety.

Arguably Matt Elam‘s biggest strength in coverage is his physicality in man coverage. Though just 5’10”, Elam does play bigger simply by being stronger and tougher than opposing receivers. He may be the Ravens best matchup against Graham. That’s a scary thought, as Graham’s ability on jump balls should strike fear into the diminutive Elam.

Will Hill is also an option, as he is bigger and more skilled with the ball in the air. He is a more traditional safety, though, with deep zone coverage ability. Against the Saints many options, Hill might be better served playing that kind of role.

The Ravens could also play without a special adjustment, but that’s dangerous. Delanie Walker, who was in the midst of a career season before getting injured against the Ravens, was terrorizing Baltimore before his injury. The intermediate middle of the field has been a weakness for the Ravens at times this year, and Graham does a lot of good work there.

If Terrence Brooks‘ brutal (and legal) hit is any indication, the Ravens were playing a bit more aggressively than usual to slow down Walker. Injury to Walker aside, the Ravens’ aggressiveness in coverage was effective. They should again try to dictate the action against the Saints.

One secret weapon needs to be mentioned. Danny Gorrer was on the Detroit Lions when they played and defeated the New Orleans Saints. Graham’s stat line in that game was a flat zero catches. Clearly the Lions did something right, and hopefully Gorrer can help the Ravens recreate it.

Whatever the Ravens try to do, execution will obviously be the most important thing. Jimmy Graham can tear apart game plans with magnificent plays. Slowing him down has to be the top priority.