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Person of Interest: Jimmy Graham, the mismatch

Graham-644
Jimmy Graham scored the Saints' only touchdown in Week 13 against Seattle but was otherwise neutralized. (AP)

By Danny O'Neil

Taking a closer look at three players who figure to factor heavily into Saturday's divisional-round game between the Seahawks and Saints, beginning with New Orleans' Jimmy Graham:

Vitals

• Position: Tight end, two-sport stud
• Height: 6-7
• Weight: 265
• Age: 27
• Experience: Fourth season

The storyline

Graham played one season of college football before he was drafted in the third round in 2010. He played one season in the NFL before he became one of the league's most dynamic receivers. Not just tight ends, but receivers.

Graham has caught more than 80 passes in three successive season, and he caught 16 touchdown passes in 2013, which was not only most of his career, but most of any player in the league.

His production tailed off the final month of the season, however. He caught nine or more passes four times in the first 11 regular-season games, but didn't have more than six receptions in any of the five games the team played in December. Graham averaged 4.2 catches over the final five games.

The statement

The Seahawks neutralized Graham on Dec. 2, holding him to three receptions in the game, and afterward coach Pete Carroll praised linebacker K.J. Wright for not only his ability in coverage, but his initiative in requesting the assignment.

Wright is out for at least another week after suffering a broken bone in his foot on Dec. 8. That means the Seahawks are going to have to explore some alternatives in covering Graham. So what's the plan without Wright?

"You'll have to wait and see," Carroll said.

The Seahawks have options. Malcolm Smith has filled in capably at the weakside linebacker, and he has the speed to get downfield in coverage. Strong safety Kam Chancellor is big enough to match up with a tight end, but Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez was able to win that matchup a year ago.

How Seattle matches up with Graham is one of the keys to this game.

"How we do it? Hopefully really well," Carroll said. "But we are challenged. K.J. had a great football game and we'll miss him. Malcolm has done a nice job stepping into his spot, but that's just part of figuring it out."

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