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Aqib Talib's shutdown effort may hamper Jimmy Graham in Saints contract talks

NEW ORLEANS -- I have a suggestion for Jimmy Graham's agent, Jimmy Sexton of CAA Sports: Destroy the game tape of New England's 30-27 victory against the New Orleans Saints in Week 6 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

That "oh-fer'' performance against Bill Belichick's box-and-one defense did nothing for Graham's argument that he should be compensated like many of the top-shelf NFL wide receivers.

But it did put Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib smack dab in the middle of the mid-season conversation for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Talib (6-1, 205) chopped Graham (6-7, 265) down to size and essentially took the fourth-year tight end out of the game with the help of other equally aggressive Patriot defenders.

Before leaving the game with an injured hip five minutes into the third quarter, Talib had lined up on Graham 24 of the 27 plays in which they were on the field at the same time, including 14 man-to-man coverage assignments that resulted in two pass breakups and an errant pass thrown by quarterback Drew Brees.

Ten other Patriots defenders were involved in the various pass coverages designed specifically for Graham, including cornerback Kyle Arrington, who had an INT and was credited with two pass breakups when singled up against the former college power forward.

In the end, the Patriots' defense pitched a shutout against Graham, stoned him cold, leaving him with no catches, no yards and no touchdowns on six targeted balls.

Graham had entered the game on an absolute tear, with four consecutive 100-yard games and five touchdowns and leading the NFL in receiving yards with 593.

He exited the game with an injured left foot, a bruised ego and determined to get right back on the horse. Team officials have been mum with regards to the injury, leaving Graham's status in doubt for Sunday's game against Buffalo at noon inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Did Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Talib provide the blueprint for success against Graham? No way of telling for certain. But we know the NFL is a copycat league and other defensive coordinators will borrow freely from the Patriots' game plan when going up against Graham, a favorite target of Brees.

That said, not every team has a defensive back like Talib, a physically gifted, tough minded corner who shares the NFL lead in INTs with four and backs down to no one. He also can count Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones, Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green, Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller and Tampa Bay wide receiver Vincent Jackson among his defensive conquests this season.

As I scout the Saints' remaining nine opponents (they play Carolina twice in December), several teams have defensive backs who potentially could challenge Graham, most notably New York Jets safety Dawan Landry (6-1, 212), Seattle safety Kam Chancellor (6-3, 230), Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman (6-3, 195) and Tampa Bay safeties Dashon Goldson (6-2, 200) and Mark Barron (6-2, 213), among others.

I don't think they necessarily are in Talib's league. But if used effectively in bracket coverage with other defenders, they certainly could present problems.

The bottom line is this: If future opponents employ a similar defensive strategy against Graham, Brees has to play better and other Saints receivers have to step up, namely Marques Colston, Lance Moore (when healthy), Robert Meachem, tight end Ben Watson and the new kids on the block, Kenny Stills and Nick Toon.

Arguably, only Stills and Watson did their share against New England, combining on six catches for 125 yards and one touchdown. Colston (11 yards) and Toon (7 yards) each had one catch.

Graham? He caught nothing but grief from Talib.

 

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