This hasn’t exactly been the debut Jimmy Graham — or his Seahawks — envisioned.
The $40 million tight end, the NFL’s most prolific pass catcher at that position since 2011, has seven catches for 62 yards through two games. Seattle has lost both.
Entering Monday night’s Week 2 finale of the New York Jets at Indianapolis, 12 tight ends and 13 running backs had more catches than Graham. Heck, even Seahawks bruising runner Marshawn Lynch had more catches (eight).
Graham’s pace entering Sunday’s home opener against Chicago (0-2) is well under his average of almost six receptions per game with New Orleans since 2011, when he became a full-time starter, through last season.
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And when Graham has gotten his 10 targets in two weeks, it hasn’t been down the field as was his lethal specialty with Drew Brees in New Orleans. That was before Seattle traded two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger and a first-round draft choice to the Saints in March to get him. Graham’s average of 8.9 yards per catch as a Seahawk is almost two full yards per reception lower than his season low for his five previous years in the league.
Monday, hours after a pre-dawn arrival at team headquarters from Sunday night’s 27-17 loss at Green Bay, Pete Carroll was asked if his star tight end is frustrated.
“I think he is,” the coach said.
Graham had two official targets against the Packers, plus a third negated as a no play because of a penalty. No. 2 tight end Luke Willson had twice as many official targets by quarterback Russell Wilson in Green Bay, including for a remarkable catch while falling down early in the third quarter.
The coach said there were many more plays designed to go to Graham, but that situations such as the Packers leaving another Seahawks receiver uncovered initially in formation led Wilson to throw to another receiver instead of as planned to Graham. The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Graham had as many looks in Green Bay as No. 4 wide receiver Chris Matthews.
“We were trying to go to him four of the first five passes in the game,” Carroll said.
In that span the tight end saw the ball come his way once, on Wilson’s throw over his head down the right sideline. On that play Graham seemed to pull up from running through the end.
Another time, Graham appeared to be Wilson’s first look and primary receiver down the middle toward the goal post from within the red zone. But the Packers bracketed him with two safeties, so Wilson threw a check-down pass for 1 yard to Lynch instead.
When Wilson threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to running back Fred Jackson in the third quarter that made it 13-10, it came with Graham as a decoy. He was split out wide right in one-on-one coverage then motioned inside and ran an out route into the right flat. Wilson stared at Graham to attract Green Bay’s coverage to the right, then threw quickly left to the open Jackson.
This was one week after Graham had one catch in the first half of the opener at St. Louis. He finished with six catches for a relatively low (for him) 51 yards against the Rams.
The issue in St. Louis was the new offensive line didn’t give Wilson enough time to wait for Graham to run routes down the field. By the second half against the Rams, Graham was running 1-yard routes.
Sunday night against the Packers the issue wasn’t pass protection. It was pass choice.
“I wish I could have gotten to him a couple more times,” Wilson said. “We’re looking for him, for sure. … It’s not one of those things you try to force, but you want to find him. He’s a great, great player.
“So we’ve got to find ways to get him the football — same with the rest of our guys.”
Graham changed in a side area of the locker room Sunday night in the visitors’ locker room at Lambeau Field out of view from the media and did not comment.
“I’m disappointed,” Carroll said. “We’ve really had intent — just like you would think, I mean, exactly like you would think and everybody thinks — we want him to be a big part of the offense.
“It’s just the way it’s worked out. I’m not panicked by that at all. It sounds like some other people are worried about it, but we are working at it. It’s going to get worked out. We just want him to be a factor, just like he wants to — desperately.”
BEARS BACKUP QB EXPECTED TO START IN SEATTLE
On Monday, Bears coach John Fox said starting quarterback Jay Cutler has a hamstring strain, and a source told the Chicago Sun-Times backup Jimmy Clausen will start Sunday for Chicago at Seattle.
Cutler got hurt while trying to make a tackle on the return of the interception he threw for an Arizona touchdown in the second quarter of the Cardinals’ 48-23 win at Chicago on Sunday.
Clausen was Carolina’s starter as a rookie from Notre Dame for 10 games in 2010. He started one game in place of Cutler in 2014, then completed 14 of 23 passes for 121 yards with an interception and two sacks against the Cardinals.
Carroll said the reason Lynch was on the sideline for one drive in the third quarter watching undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls play instead was that Lynch’s neck was bothering him. Lynch talked some with a team doctor then returned for the next drive and the rest of the game. On Monday, Carroll said Lynch is fine now. He finished with 41 yards on 15 carries at Green Bay and has 114 yards on 33 runs this season. That average of 3.45 yards per carry through two games is more than 0.7 yards per rush lower than Lynch’s lowest for an entire season in his four full years with Seattle. … Carroll said the only injury was special-teams player Steven Terrell having a hip flexor. A roster move could be coming about that this week.
SUNDAY: Chicago (0-2) at Seattle (0-2), 1:25 p.m., Ch. 7, 710-AM, 97.3-FM