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Seahawks on tape: Shaquill Griffin comfortably steps into CB1 spot

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Statistically, the Seattle Seahawks are in a pretty deep hole that they need to get out of in terms of qualifying for the playoffs. The eye test says they are worse; bad enough to have a losing record in what ultimately is a rebuilding year. But the 2015 Seahawks were in this position, after two road games to start, and came soaring back into the postseason.

For that to have any chance of materializing this season, Seattle will need Shaquill Griffin to be near-lockdown with the upheaval and inexperience opposite him. So far it’s been encouraging signs aplenty; Griffin has been playing like a true number one cornerback after the departure of Richard Sherman this offseason.

If this does transpire into what looks like a rough season of Seahawks football, Griffin will ease the pain. His two interceptions against the Chicago Bears symbolize his growth as a player. The second-year corner is in for a shutdown season.

In his rookie campaign, Griffin had 15 passes defended but only one interception. It was clear he wasn’t that confident with turning to find the ball that year, something he admitted in his Week 3 presser along with revealing the help Sherman gave him on ball location.

Interception #1

2017 was full of Griffin turning the incorrect way plus looking at the wrong time or not turning out of fear. 2018 appears to be different. His first interception was Sherman-esque.

On this 1st and 10, trailing 7-0 with 11.59 left in the 2nd, Griffin showed one of the most promising pieces of football I’ve seen in a long time. Lined up in one-on-one press-man coverage versus Allen Robinson, he dominates the route. At the line of scrimmage, Griffin steps patiently, staying square with the inside stutter release with Robinson. Not biting on the inside route, Griffin then kicks back to go vertical down the sideline.

Though he misses contact at the LOS, his kick back is at a great angle with fluid hips. This puts him in perfect phase with Robinson. He squeezes the wideout to the sideline, reducing the space for a potential catch.

Crucially, he stays in phase with his opponent as the route progresses. He brushes off the one-arm push, an attempt at separation from Robinson, and stays in good positioning to break on the comeback—not opening all the way downfield until the chance of that route is gone.

Griffin doesn’t fall into the trap of locating the ball prematurely—despite Robinson looking for the pass early. He instead waits until 15-yards, where a go route in this situation is the only possible outcome. The cornerback turns the correct way, subtly using his hand nearest to Robinson to keep track of the receiver and to win the inside while he looks for the football.

Mitch Trubisky, seeing the single-high safety of the cover 1 and therefore the isolated match-up for his receiver outside, decides to unload the pass. But his footwork under slight pressure is sloppy and the throw is weaker than MGK’s diss track game. Griffin, looking right at the quarterback, sees the under-thrown pass and attacks the football by coming downhill. He high-points the floater for the prototypical Pete Carroll cornerback interception. Beautiful.

Doesn’t that remind you of a certain #25? The best ever to locate the football in this scheme and technique? Such nostalgia is intensified by Griffin ending with the Sherman-esque swagger walk. It comes at a great time, right after a Seattle 3 and out punt.

Post-game, Griffin revealed his joy at such an interception: “They just took a shot, and I feel like the main thing I did right was just stay calm. I’ve been waiting to get one like that.” Get one indeed!

Interception #2

The two prior plays to Griffin’s second pick were full of Trubisky living dangerously. Mychal Kendricks broke up a pass; next Griffin himself mugged a curl route for the incompletion. And then 9.05 in the 2nd quarter happened.

Looking to give his quarterback a simple completion, Matt Nagy called a play-action, one-read play for Trubisky which looked to get behind the linebackers and in front of the Seahawks’ three-deep leverage. Griffin matches Robinson very capably. He maintains his cushion well against the receiver and is in sound position to break on the post route while also having inside help from deep safety Earl Thomas.

The split-action in the backfield sucks the second-level up on the run fake, but Bradley McDougald is directly in the designed passing lane for Trubisky. McDougald makes an excellent leaping play to tip the ball.

It is here where Griffin’s positioning aids him once more. Looking at the quarterback, he tracks the ball brilliantly. Flashing rapid breaking speed, he manages to get underneath the batted pass for the interception before it hits the turf.

It’s exciting to see this growth from Griffin as a pro. The fact he recognized the main area to work on in the offseason and has executed this goal—as illustrated by his two picks—is the sign of a star in the making.

“I’m a lot further than I was last year,” commented Griffin on his ball skills. “I’m glad I’m finally getting the ball in my hand. I feel like that’s the main thing I wanted to work on. It’s just a huge confidence booster for me to finally start getting the ball in my hands early in the season. That’s something I’m going to continue to work on. I know I still had a few mistakes here and there, you know, missed tackles. So there’s stuff I still have to work on. I’m glad I’m making progress and I’m glad I’m finally getting the ball in my hand. Just doing the things correctly and doing it right so I can help out a lot more.”

He confirmed his savvy technical work on getting his head around to play the ball.

“Now I’m just getting my head around, I feel like that’s the main thing I had to do,” he said. “Last year I feel like I was just playing it safe…I know I can punch the ball out. I know I’m good at tracking the ball and just making sure he doesn’t catch it. I said, ‘Now that I’m finally doing good with that, let’s try get the ball in my hands, let’s try turn my head around, just looking for it, finding it’ and now I’m finally getting it. The main thing I was doing, I was working all offseason and during camp was just turning my head around and just feeling that sense of confidence, just to look for it and find it myself. I’m glad I got that same play during the game and got an interception because now it’s just—it feels good to finally get that out of the way. So now when it continues to happen, I don’t have to think about it and second guess myself when the ball’s in the air.”

Such development has transformed Griffin from a cornerback #2 to a cornerback #1. Whereas before teams could target Griffin with comebacks and blind spot throws, now they will live in fear of ever throwing his way.

Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. spoke on Griffin’s ability and potential:

“You can see he’s a guy that really understands the corner play. He knows how to go up and get the ball, he’s really fast, he understands his technique. There’s no limit to how good he can be. It’s just a matter of practicing and continuing to learn, continuing to improve and then the good stuff starts to come.”

At this point, drunk with Griffin enthusiasm, it’s worth sobering up a tad regarding the overall context. Seattle may not come up against a quarterback as bad as Mitch Trubisky again this season. The 2017 #2 overall selection appeared to have a severe aversion to throwing left, a theme throughout his young NFL career. 22 of his 34 targets went right (65%), as did 16 of his 25 completions (64%).

https://nextgenstats.nfl.com/charts/list/pass/team/season/week/mitchell-trubisky/TRU215336/2018/2/pass

Facing quarterbacks who actually like throwing left, you can expect the inexperienced side to get picked on far more often. Chicago should have done this further, given they completed 9 of 12 passes including a touchdown throwing to the backside.

“He’s just getting started”

This would be an especially smart strategy for opposing offenses given how good Shaquill Griffin looks right now. With the improvements he has already made, a Pro Bowl berth is surely his goal. As Pete Carroll enthused: “He’s just getting going. Really, he’s just getting started.”

Go on Dak Prescott: just try it.