The San Francisco 49ers defense faces a significant challenge on Thursday when they host Jimmy Graham and the Seattle Seahawks. Graham has not had a monster year like we have seen in the past, but he comes into this game off his best receiving game of the season. Graham had eight receptions for 140 yards against a Panthers defense that has generally played well against tight ends. Of course, the Seahawks struggled on offense in the fourth quarter, and Graham's contributions did not usually occur on scoring drives.
Even with Graham's struggles, he is still a dangerous threat. Ricardo Lockette has quietly put together some impressive performances, but given the 49ers struggles, particularly over the middle of the field, Graham is the guy most of us will be watching on Sunday.
Eric Mangini was asked a couple questions on Tuesday about Graham, and the challenge he presents. He was asked specifically about who could cover Graham. Someone mentioned Jaquiski Tartt, Jimmie Ward and Dontae Johnson
"Yeah, you do, but their ability to get into 11-personnel, the three wide receiver sets with Jimmy Graham and run the ball effectively with [RB] Marshawn [Lynch], it's a question of how much of the dime packages would you want to be in, where you're better in coverage but you don't have the same type of run fits against their offensive line, against that back. And then there are the fits not just during the core runs, but then when the quarterback detaches from the formation or keeps the ball. All of those things, you rep out add the short week to it and there are certain things you can do and do well and do effectively. And then, there are other things that you might like to do, but just really isn't the game for it."
Of course, we all won't forget Jimmie Ward's performance handling a big receiver in Brandon Marshall last year. He bounced back from that performance before his foot injury, but it hung over a lot of reviews of his rookie season. He is having a solid year for himself, but I'm not a big fan of putting the 5'11 nickel back on Graham.
The 49ers don't exactly have a 6'7 corner to face Graham, but Dontae Johnson could make some sense. He's 6'2 with long arms. He has been playing exclusively special teams the last few weeks, but it would make a lot of sense to get him in on defense for this game. There is some talk of Tartt, and of course, the inside linebackers will likely get some work as well. But Johnson seems like the best option when Graham is getting deeper down the field.
Who would you play on Graham?