Jimmy Graham Presents Nightmare Matchup for Bengals

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Nov 9, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) celebrates a first down against the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The 49ers won 27-24 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Graham is pretty much the worst receiving option the Bengals could face.  He’s been amongst the league’s best tight ends since his second season (2011) while leading NFL tight ends last year in just about every receiving category.  As a matter of fact, Graham’s receiving presence is so potent that the NFLPA fought for him to be considered a wide receiver when deciding the value of his franchise tag. Because Graham is such a great receiving tight end, it’s easy to argue that he should be considered amongst the league’s best receiving options regardless of position.

This makes Graham an absolute nightmare matchup for the Bengals due to their well-documented inability to cover tight ends.  This year, the Bengals are amongst the worst defenses when defending the position.  Here’s a look at the Bengals’ performance against tight ends this year.

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Clearly they have struggled greatly against tight ends.  And as one could imagine, they’ve struggled even more so when facing talented pass-catching tight ends.  Here’s a look at some of those performances this year.

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Thus far in 2014, Jimmy Graham is continuing his domination at the tight end position.  Graham has played in nine games thus far this year, though he was severely limited against the Lions due to a shoulder injury.  Graham has produced 56 catches (first in the league amongst tight ends) for 594 yards (third) and seven touchdowns (T-fourth) heading into this week’s matchup.  The Bengals will be faced with a huge challenge this weekend as they’ll try to earn a much-needed win in New Orleans.

Depending on the health of the defense, the Bengals may be without linebacker Vontaze Burfict and possibly cornerback Leon Hall.  If the Bengals have to play the Saints without these two, it’ll severely hinder their ability to defend the Saints high-powered offense.  It’ll force Emmanuel Lamur into the “quarterbacking” role, which has proven to be a difficult task for him.  It’ll also impact his ability to solely focus on defending Graham as Lamur is the Bengals’ best pass-defending linebacker.

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Leon Hall’s potential absence would force the Bengals to utilize either Dre Kirkpatrick and/or Darqueze Dennard more often, which would potentially assign a lesser defender to Jimmy Graham.  Hall’s presence on Sunday would be vital as Graham will often lineup in the slot and Hall remains the team’s best slot defender.

The Bengals will have their work cut out for them this weekend.  Their defense has struggled to this point in the season.  Sunday, they’ll face maybe the best offense they’ve faced this year (along with the Colts).  This challenge only gets worse when you consider what Jimmy Graham is capable of.  Paul Guenther has described 2014 as a “hell of a first year.”  Unless he comes up with a game plan we’ve yet to see, his opening season as a defensive coordinator will only become more daunting heading into Sunday.

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