Posted: 5:01 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14, 2013
By James Brady
The most important thing to happen on Sunday is pretty darn obvious: the San Francisco 49ers won another game, and have won their last three outings. The second-most important thing might be a bit less obvious and up for debate, but I believe it came in an entirely different game: the matchup between the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints.
Tight end Jimmy Graham is a ridiculous player. I've written about him and the nightmare matchup he presents in the past, and I believe everything in that article would apply to the 49ers. San Francisco takes on the Saints in Week 11, wedged between games against the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins.
That game is to be played in New Orleans, where Drew Brees knows no peers and virtually no weakness. It's as hard a game as the 49ers will play this season. So why was Sunday's matchup between the Saints and Patriots so important?
New England held Graham, the NFL's leading receiver, to zero receptions.
Now, there are those who will say that injuries played a factor, but those people ignore the fact that said injury happened in the fourth quarter. Graham was shut down for three-plus quarters, and even had a pass picked off in front of him. Graham hadn't been held catch-less since his rookie year in 2010.
Graham's yardage totals this season are as follows: 45 (vs. ATL), 179 (at TB), 134 (vs. ARI), 100 (vs. MIA), 135 (at CHI) and now 0 (at NE). He's just stupidly good at what he does, and folks routinely suggest that there isn't a linebacker in the NFL that can cover him.
That statement is oh-so close to being true, if not for some very, very good coverage linebackers. The 49ers have the best and second-best inside linebackers in the NFL, and NaVorro Bowman getting some time on Graham is a near certainty when the two teams meet up in Week 11.
But the 49ers have to go further than that. The Patriots went out and made it clear that Graham was their primary concern by sticking Aqib Talib, their top cornerback, on him. The argument that big-bodied tight ends automatically beat smaller corners is false. Corners have dealt with being smaller than wide receivers for a long time.
The fact remains that a top corner shouldn't be kept away from one of the best tight ends in the league. If that tight end is truly the top receiving threat, he should get the top corner, unless the matchup does not add up in any way. Talib ended up getting hurt and replaced by another cornerback, Kyle Arrington, but the principle remains the same: put a cornerback on him.
This isn't a job for Donte Whitner or Eric Reid, and it's not something that Bowman or Patrick Willis should handle on their own. San Francisco absolutely needs to put a corner on him, and I don't want Whitner anywhere near that matchup, as an aside.
Which corner do you think would be best suited for the task?