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Seahawks Breakdown: Shaquem Griffin must play better after a poor debut

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We all love the Shaquem Griffin story. I don’t mind saying that I’m rooting for him. I’m rooting for him about as much as I’ve rooted for any player I’ve covered. I want him to be good. And I think he can be really, really good.

Griffin was really, really bad in week one against the Denver Broncos.

Griffin is shifting positions. We shouldn’t forget that. Though he had coverage responsibilities as a linebacker at UCF, he still lined up, mostly, as an edge. Now he’s a strict off-ball ‘backer.

The responsibilities and run fits are different. Shifting to the middle is a big change. Eye discipline is paramount.

Griffin has always been a little bit of a gambler. It’s part of what makes his style so intoxicating. At any moment he can go full Tasmanian Devil, overwhelming a blocker with sheer athleticism and force of will.

That’s not the guy we saw last Sunday. He will need to be much better tonight.

Denver runs a fairly routine offense. Its ground game is predicated on the basics: outside-zone, with the threat of boot-actions; duo; power-concepts; draw plays; and some perimeter sweeps. It’s not all that expansive. The Broncos want to get a hat on a hat and push you off the ball.

Your eyes aren’t as taxed as your positional leverage and overall instincts.

Chicago is different. The Bears run-game is all sorts of funky. They utilize all sorts of pre-snap movement – motions and shifts – to pull you one way before attacking the other. It’s tough to keep up with all the moving parts.

Not content with distorting the dimensions of the field pre-snap, Matt Nagy’s side also uses a lot of movement post-snap: pulling blockers; reverses; jet sweeps; midline reads; and a bevy of calls that tack on some kind of option element.

Eye discipline and gap discipline is key.

The Seahawks are typically pretty damn great with their eye discipline. A spine of Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor will do that for you.

You may have heard, but only one of those guys will take the filed against Nagy’s confuse-and-clobber attack on Monday Night.

*deep exhale*

A lot will fall on Griffin’s shoulders. The rookie split time with Austin Calitro in week one. Calitro is more of a downhill thumper, only he struggles to get vertical and he doesn’t thump all that much.

After giving Griffin full snaps for the first couple of series, Pete Carroll and company opted to rotate their off-ball guys. Calitro played the early downs, and Griffin subbed in for second and third down or in obvious passing situations.

Griffin played 55% of the team’s defensive snaps; Calitro 45%.

I understood the move. I didn’t really agree with it – Griffin was always going to have some growing pains.

Griffin struggled reading the game from the middle of the field. He was consistently a tick late diagnosing-and-attacking. As he did throughout the preseason, he took truly awful pursuit angles to the ball. Watch below:

Denver runs a ton of lead draws. It’s a staple of their early down package. Lineman pass-set, a lead-blocker (a fullback or tight end) sprints through a hole, then a running back follows. See, we throw on first down sometimes. Just kidding. Griffin will have seen it a gazillion times during his film study.

Early in the rep, he was in an advantageous position:

It’s not quite as easy as it looks from there. Griffin has to make sure he’s not washed out of the play. The Broncos have a center-guard double-team. They’re running what’s known as a “deuce” block. Essentially, it’s an option-block. They seal the first guy together — shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip — then they read the second player. In this instance, that’s Griffin.

Depending which way Griffin goes, the lineman to that side peels off the double-team and seal the linebacker.

The key to the play, for the offense, is patience. Denver’s linemen wanted Griffin to commit. They wanted him to charge towards the open lane so that they could pin him early and distort the line of scrimmage, gifting the running back some room to roam.

Griffin was right to wait. Like the lineman, he’s supposed to be patient. It’s all a waiting game. He’s fine to concede a couple of yards, so long as he doesn’t rampage downhill and take himself out of the play immediately.

The issue, however, was the angle Griffin took to the ball once he committed. He has the short area quickness to shuffle through pockets of space. He hit the linemen with a stutter step and cleared the block with ease. But he had shuffled over too far. The lineman essentially blocked him without really touching him.

He was left to effort through the gap and dive at the legs of the running back as he scampered away.

You know you had a bad rep when the backside defender – in this case a spinning safety – got just as close to making the tackle as you did on a play run right into your lap.

There were some bright spots, where Griffin was able to sort through the trash and dig-out the ball-carrier:

But those examples were few and far between. Griffin wasn’t consistent enough. His initial angles were poor. We didn’t see those slick feet sliding through creases. The game seemed a little too fast.

Griffin did a poor job setting a hard edge, too. This is where he should be at home. Back in college, Griffin would delight in slamming the outside shoulder of a tackle or tight end and diverting ball-carriers away. He legitimately mauled fools who dared to run on him.

There was some gambling, sure. And some of his reps were made because he was a better athlete than most of the guys he went up against. But mostly, he won because he understood the importance of physical leverage – where his body needed to be in relation to a blocker – and how to take-on blockers on the perimeter: stick them inside, keep your outside shoulder free.

He showed none of that last Sunday.

That’s a greedy play. Griffin cheated inside.

Again, he did well enough in the early part of the rep. He stuck his paw into the chest of the blocker. He had decent position. Griffin was the force defender. His job was to ride the tight end down the line, make sure he got his outside shoulder free, stack, then shed, squeezing the ball-carrier towards the middle of the field where there were extra defenders.

He didn’t. He allowed the Broncos tight end to flip his hips, twisting Griffin toward the hash-mark. Griffin decided to cheat, plugging one gap over, even though it was already accounted for.

Griffin got turned all the way around. He abdicated his run fit. That’s almost unconscionable against outside-zone. I mean, the clue’s kind of in the name.

Griffin’s struggles against the run were bad. Seattle spotted it early and subbed in Calitro.

Trust me: he wasn’t much better.

It’s tough to get away with poor pursuit or take-on angles. You get little leeway even when you’re a stud athlete. But you do get some. Calitro doesn’t have the luxury of Griffin’s athleticism. He was slow to diagnose-and-attack runs. He consistently took himself out of plays by either being passive or taking bad angles.

Scenes like this were too common:

You saw the backside guard wrap around, right? Once he sees that key, Calitro has to know the frontside of Denver’s line is down blocking. He’s too late to react. He chops his feet, looking busy, rather than actually doing anything.

Calitro doesn’t see things develop well. That leads to him taking up poor landmarks and whiffing on tackles:

Seattle has turned to street free-agent/soon-to-be felon Mychal Kendricks to help the problem.

Kendricks isn’t very good. His awareness in congested spaces is better than either Griffin’s or Calitro’s. He can get downhill and plug gaps. That’s better than the Seahawks got in week one. Ask him to do much more, though, and he’s in trouble.

Kendricks doesn’t have the foot-speed to cover much ground. Stick him on the field, and the Bears — or any future opponent — are apt to isolate him in space and throw the ball, down-and-distance be damned. It’s a real problem.

Griffin needs to step up. His issues weren’t just against the run. His role was supposed to be the Swiss Army Knife third ‘backer: the guy who could shoot gaps and set a hard edge in the run game, turn and run in space in man or zone-coverage, and be an active part of Seattle’s new-fangled blitz package.

We saw little to none of the above in week one. Griffin was stone-walled as a blitzer:

Griffin understands his physical advantage — the uniqueness of someone so big being able to move so fast. The Seahawks’ coaching staff does, too. They want to get him thundering towards the backfield as a blitzer. They know Griffin has the hops to unnerve opposing lineman. He can beat them to their set points, or force them to overcommit in one direction before bursting in the other.

But he has to show it on Sunday’s. Griffin didn’t appear to have his typical juice in Denver.

He was exposed in coverage. Griffin was involved in an early coverage bust with fellow rookie Tre Flowers. The pair appeared unsure whether the corner was supposed to pass off an in-breaking route to the linebacker or not. He was.

The bust was on Flowers. But watch how much trouble the Seahawks defenders have lining up:

Those dastardly pursuit angles showed up again. Griffin should be an excellent read-and-react zone-defender. We saw glimpses:

That’s a nice play. Griffin got cleaned out, but he took a good angle to the ball, forcing the ball-carrier back inside.

That was about it. Case Keenum had a 158.3 passer rating against Griffin in coverage. The Broncos’ QB threw for 81 yards and a touchdown on five targets against the rookie.

At times Griffin looked frenetic. He seemed too eager to be in the right place, causing him to over pursue plays. Other times, he dawdled towards the line of scrimmage, as though he could flip a switch and chase down receivers at will:

He couldn’t. The play above will go down as a broken tackle. But it had nothing to do with Griffin’s tackling form. Or, has been suggested by some nincompoops, his lack of a hand. Griffin took too long to get into position. It was, dare I say, a sloppy, lazy play. Not something was associate with Griffin.

Once again, he took a dreadful angle to the ball, all but eliminating himself from the play before he was even close to the receiver.

Here’s the positive: this is all correctable. Perhaps not in a week, but certainly through his rookie year.

Griffin had excellent instincts when pushed closer to the line of scrimmage in college. It’s taking him a fair amount of time to re-calibrate now that he’s shifted further back and across (remember: the angle issues hampered him throughout the preseason).

The position switch was always going to take time. In starting week one, he was ahead of schedule. He still has a ton to work on.

It will be interesting to see how much he’s used going forward. I’d suggest Kendricks will pick-up the early down role, while Griffin is reserved for those more obvious passing spots.

Griffin has an interesting package of skills. It will be interesting to see if he can put them all together. The Seahawks are hoping so. And they need him to do it quickly, starting on Monday night against the Chicago Bears.