Raiders key matchup No. 1: Mitchell vs. Graham

November 18, 2012, 4:31 pm
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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final part in a series that spotlighted three Raiders-Saints matchups to watch Sunday, 1:05 p.m. (Fox), at ColiseumRaiders SS Mike Mitchell vs. Saints TE Jimmy GrahamTale of the tape
Mitchell (3): 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, fourth season, Ohio
Graham (9): 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, third season, Miami (Fla.)ALAMEDA -- Just how good is Jimmy Graham?"I think you know the answer to that," Raiders strong safety Tyvon Branch said with a smirk.The question, then, becomes this -- who defends Graham if Branch's sore neck keeps him from playing against the Saints and his streak of 57 straight starts ends, as expected?Paging Mike Mitchell, who has had some success in the past covering the likes of San Diego's Antonio Gates."If they call my number and Im able to play some, I just want to go do what I do and make plays," Mitchell said. "I think Jimmy Graham is one of the better tight ends in the game, especially now since were kind of transitioning from the tight end position. Hes definitely one of the younger, better tight ends that you can go up against so its definitely something that excites me."I feel like if you can defend those guys well, that says something about you so Im always looking to improve my game and to get some success going against guys with bigger names. Obviously, I know I have a heck of a challenge but I cant wait for it. I can genuinely say that Im preparing to play a very good football game."Graham, meanwhile, has been playing at an elite level the past two-plus seasons.The converted basketball player who played just one year of college football has 23 touchdowns since 2010, the most among NFC tight ends in that time span, and has a TD catch in nine of his last 11 games.Last year, Graham had a franchise-record 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 TDs and was selected to the Pro Bowl."He's got real confidence, and right now he's aggressive," said Raiders backup tight end Richard Gordon, who played with Graham at Miami. "He used to not want to get hit, but now he'll hit you. He changed a lot. He's blocking and everything now. That's the best thing of his game now. He's all-around."This season, Graham has 45 receptions for 533 yards and seven scores after catching seven passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns last week in handing the Atlanta Falcons their first loss of the season.He would also enjoy a six-inch height and 45-pound advantage against Mitchell."We understand the monster that were playing and I cant say it enough, its a very good football team," Mitchell said. "We've just got to do our best to do our jobs and do what were coached to do and make plays when were given the opportunity."With Drew Brees throwing the ball to Graham, Mitchell should have plenty of opportunities.