The San Francisco 49ers defense has been inconsistent for stretches this season, but one area where they have found consistent success is against tight ends. Football Outsiders ranks them No. 2 in covering tight ends. By comparison, their next highest ranking is No. 22 against No. 1 wide receivers.
This weekend, the 49ers host a Seattle Seahawks team that will look for a big contribution from tight end Jimmy Graham. After a slow start to the season, Graham has been dominating in the red zone. Over the past six weeks, Graham has scored all seven of his touchdowns.
It has seemed like Graham took some time to get going with the Seahawks, and so in my recent chat with Field Gulls editor Kenneth Arthur, I asked him about Graham. His numbers have not changed drastically, but it has felt like Graham is more involved lately. Here’s what Kenneth had to say about that
I would not say that his role in the offense has changed that much outside of how they utilize him in the red zone. The idea that Graham was being "mis-used" or "not as good as he was in New Orleans" was kinda just hogwash. It was a lower volume offense, yes, (not anymore surprisingly as the Saints move to the run game and Russell Wilson sits among the league leaders in pass attempts) but Graham on a rate basis had been just as advertised. Except for when it comes to scoring and now it seems like Seattle has finally figured out how to do that better.
Graham's 20 red zone targets is the most in the NFL and that's why he's tied for second in receiving touchdowns with seven. So for most of the game, you're getting the same Jimmy Graham, and then in the red zone you have to expect that Wilson will toss him at least one goal-to-go touchdown attempt.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ray-Ray Armstrong has had the most coverage of tight ends for the 49ers. However, with Armstrong no longer in the starting lineup, the strong safety has gotten a lot of coverage work. It’s safe to say Eric Reid will have his hands full on Sunday against Graham. Russell Wilson remains the most dangerous player on the field, but in a pure one-on-one matchup, Reid vs. Graham will be one to watch.