X's & O's: Shadow Graham with Talib?

Perhaps more so than with any other cornerback in recent seasons, Bill Belichick and the Patriots have turned to Aqib Talib to shadow an opposing team’s top target during the early part of the 2013 season. Be it Julio Jones or A.J. Green, we’ve seen Talib move around the formation to try to deter a talented wideout, and for the most part, he’s done very well.

It hasn’t been an every-snap occurrence, but it has happened enough to wonder if the Patriots would consider it again this Sunday.

And for those saying, “It’s one thing to shadow Julio Jones or A.J. Green but a different story for a player such as Marques Colston,” you’re right. Colston is a terrific receiver, but not the same dynamic perimeter player that Green and Jones are.

But the Saints do have a difference-making pass target, he just doesn’t play wide receiver, at least not according to the roster.

Jimmy Graham is the NFL’s leading receiver in terms of yards and has the athletic ability of most wideouts. He just also happens to stand at 6-foot-7 and can align on the end of the line of scrimmage as a blocker.

The Saints, as part of their diverse offensive attack, move Graham around the formation, as he more often than not is detached from the offensive line. So while he’s listed as a tight end, he is used in enough “wide receiver” alignments to merit consideration of having Talib shadow him.

While Graham possesses a distinct height advantage, Talib is the Patriots' most talented man-to-man defender and has enough length to try to disrupt Graham at the line of scrimmage.

As is always the case, the Patriots won’t rely on just one coverage principle to try to take away an opponent’s best weapon. The team will likely turn to bracket coverages and other multiple-defender assignments to attempt to keep Graham in check.

But while shadowing a tight end with a cornerback may sound unconventional, it may also give the Patriots their best chance to slow Graham down, something no defense has been able to do thus far this season.