When you face an offense that ranks 1st in yards per game, passing yards, total 1st downs and passing 1st downs, and also has the 3rd-highest rated passer in the NFL, there are a lot of challenges. Facing such an offense is the task at hand for the Vikings defense this week, as Drew Brees and the high-scoring Saints offense are bringing their show to Mall of America Field on Sunday.
With all of the superlative stats one can use to describe the Saints passing offense, perhaps the most interesting is that their leading receiver is not a speedster on the outside or a quick-as-a-whip slot receiver. It’s TE Jimmy Graham, a first-year starter who played behind Jeremy Shockey for most of last season.
Graham is a big, physical and fast target for Brees in the Saints offense. He measures in at 6-6, 260 pounds, which gives him a decided advantage over any defender that tries to cover him. Add in the fact that he has excellent leaping ability, good hands, and above-average speed, and you can see why Graham is such a valuable and reliable target for Brees.
For the season, Graham leads the Saints in receptions (80), receiving yards (1,101) and receiving TDs (8).
“He’s a good player, a very good player,” Vikings Defensive Coordinator Fred Pagac said on Thursday. “Obviously doing a great job at this point catching the football. Big body, athletic, can run; we will have to get into him, changeup techniques and coverages on him and go from there.”
As good a season as Graham is having, he doesn’t pose the type of threat never before seen by this Vikings defense. Graham is a lot like San Diego Chargers TE Antonio Gates in that both are big, athletic pass-catching TEs with basketball backgrounds, and their teams feature them in the passing game. Other TEs that fit this mold in the NFL and that the Vikings have seen recently include Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez, Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley and Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew.
The Vikings have had mixed results against TEs of this caliber. In Week 1 of the regular season, Gates caught 8 passes for 74 yards, and the Vikings held him out of the end zone. Against Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley in 2 games this season, the Vikings gave up 5 receptions for 80 yards and 1 TD. And against Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew in 2 games, the Vikings yielded 17 receptions for 169 yards and 1 TD.
It sounds like Pagac and the Vikings defense will be on the lookout for Graham this week to make sure they hold him in check.
“When you are studying film, you will see linebackers, safeties on him,” Pagac said. “You will see people trying to change coverages up on him. Obviously the same stuff that we are going to try to do.”
Tags: Fred Pagac
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