NFL

Graham will draw attention at Lambeau

Alex Marvez previews the Saints-Packers matchup
Alex Marvez previews the Saints-Packers matchup
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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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METAIRIE, La.

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The Green Bay Packers won’t be the only team playing at Lambeau Field on Sunday that had major problems with the replacement referees.

While his squad wasn’t specifically affected by one blown call like the Packers in last Monday night’s 14-12 loss to Seattle, New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham told FOXSports.com that the Saints’ offense has suffered from inconsistent officiating. Graham specifically pointed to referee confusion that resulted in frequent and lengthy clock stoppages.

“We’re such a rhythm offense and there has been zero rhythm these past three games,” said Graham, whose team is off to an 0-3 start. “Literally, the minute you have some kind of momentum there’s a 10-minute delay

“That’s not how we operate as an offense. We have so many personnel groupings, shifts and motions. It’s all about timing. Drew is a timing quarterback. That’s what we harp on and why are practices are so full speed because we need that. It’s been really disrupted.”

Graham himself has gotten routes disrupted by defenders who are hitting him more frequently. Graham believes some of those shots have illegally occurred beyond the five-yard contact zone but weren’t being called by the replacement referees.

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“A lot of guys have just been holding me or looking to hit me 10 yards down the field,” Graham said. “I can’t let that happen anymore.”

Graham is still productive, ranking third among NFL tight ends in catches with 17 for 172 yards and three touchdowns. Graham also understands the added attention he is receiving comes with the territory after catching 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns in his breakthrough second NFL season in 2011.

When initially becoming a full-time starter last year, Graham remembers “being able to run down the seam and have no one touch me. I would catch a ball and keep running.” He then laughed.

“That’s not quite the case now,” Graham said. “Pretty much every time I do catch it deep I’m getting hit immediately or there’s a guy all over me, a guy on top and a guy below. (Defenses) have ends that are holding me up on the line and not rushing just to hit me. Then a linebacker will hit me and hold me. The safety, he’s really got me over the top.

“For me, it’s not only working on escaping the line but the second-level release has been big.”

To try and counter such coverage tactics, Graham has worked diligently in video study to recognize coverage schemes quicker. He also has tried to improve his hands knowing that he will have to consistently make more difficult catches.

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If the Packers follow their usual form on defense Sunday, Graham will be frequently matched against free safety Charles Woodson. A ball-hawking cornerback for his first 14 NFL seasons, the 35-year-old Woodson was converted this offseason to take advantage of his coverage skills on opposing tight ends and slot wide receivers.

“He’s a very smart player,” Graham said. “Depending on your split or stem, he knows exactly what route you’re going to run and when you’re going to break. You can tell he studies the game and notices everyone’s little nuances. When you do give him a good move, he’s really good at recovering.

“I see a lot of good stuff. Personally, I take it as a challenge. He’s one of the best at what he does.”

Graham hopes the same will soon be said about the Saints’ offense once again with the regular referees now back starting with Sunday’s game (4:25 p.m. ET, FOX).

“There’s nothing but positive,” Graham said about the officiating lockout ending. “It’s definitely going to be a smoother game now.”

Tagged: Packers, Saints, Jimmy Graham

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