The Pittsburgh Steelers will have the task Sunday of attempting to cover New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who has 65 catches for 670 yards and nine touchdowns so far this season. Recently, Steelers safety Mike Mitchell was asked about having to go up against Graham this weekend and below is what he told Scott Brown of ESPN.com.
Mitchell told me that Graham’s a lot like Antonio Brown, the Steelers Pro Bowl wide receiver, and that its going to be impossible to completely take him out of the game. Mitchell said the key to minimizing the damage Graham inflicts on the Steelers defense is to get physical with him and try and disrupt his pass routes as much as possible.
While Graham did manage to catch six passes for 47 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints Monday night loss to the Baltimore Ravens, safety Will Hill did a pretty good job of defending him when the tight end was his responsibility. After that game, Hill said he tried to match Graham’s physical style of play.
“With a guy like Graham, you have to be physical with him,” Hill said, according to Christopher Dabe of The Times-Picayune. “He’s a big guy. He doesn’t expect anybody get up on him. He would expect an outside linebacker, or a linebacker, to hit him. A defensive back, he tries to bully. I think I caught him off guard.”
Hill also managed to intercept a poorly thrown pass from Saints quarterback Drew Brees that was intended for Graham in that game and he returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. He talked about that play after the game.
“I had seen that (Drew) Brees was under duress, and I had Jimmy Graham man-to-man anyway,” Hill said. “So, he looked for his No. 1 guy. He threw it, it was a little behind him. I just took the opportunity.”
Mitchell will likely be asked to cover Graham at some point Sunday, but I’m sure he won’t be the only one to do so in the game. At times, Graham might see a Steelers cornerback covering him or possibly even rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is expected to return to action this weekend after missing several games with an ankle injury.
Regardless, the Steelers aren’t going to shut down Graham down completely on Sunday and like Mitchell told Brown, they’ll just have to work hard at trying to minimize the overall damage that the tight end does. If they can at least keep him out of the end zone and prevent him from registering explosive plays of 20 yards or more, that will certainly help the cause.