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Seahawks on tape: Shaquill Griffin worked by Dallas Cowboys’ duo run

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone could see Shaquill Griffin was having a rough game last Sunday. Casual observers, emotionally charged viewers and financially invested watchers; Dallas Cowboys fans, Seattle Seahawks supporters and NFL followers; Griffin was bad to the most inexperienced football spectator.

I wrote the previous week about the ability of Tre Flowers resulting in “some teams,” targeting “Shaquill Griffin more.” Flowers’ excellent debut season has coincided with an underwhelming second campaign for Griffin. What started so brightly for Griffin with interceptions against the Chicago Bears dwindled.

Sure, the 2017 third-rounder was bugged by an ankle injury. But his wild card round failures were not issues of athleticism or fluidity. While it’s impossible to determine the impact playing hurt had on Griffin’s confidence, his poor plays were based purely in ghastly technique and awareness. His performance was so disappointing that drafting another cornerback looks essential, irrespective of whether slot defender Justin Coleman is re-signed.

One method Dallas utilized to attack Griffin was their “duo” run scheme. (I wrote about Seattle’s misdirection version here) The Seahawks’ front played the design well each time. Encouragingly for Seattle, Ezekiel Elliott was forced to bounce his read to the EDGE. Negatively, the two instances saw Elliott beat the unblocked Griffin one-on-one.

Griffin out-leverages himself

On the first occasion, the Cowboys aligned in a 2x2 11 personnel single back formation. They then shifted Tavon Austin into a “sniffer role”—so named for its location right behind the buttocks of the guard. On the 3rd and 1, post-shift, the Seahawks had nearly 9 men in the box for the 7 Dallas blockers. Their choice of dime personnel, rather than nickel, for the 11 personnel was somewhat strange given the short-yardage but was testament to their faith in Bradley McDougald as a box player. Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. were likely fearful of being burnt again via an empty set too.

The Cowboys managed to get 3 double teams at the line of scrimmage, but there were too many Seattle bodies for Elliott to run this up the middle. The ball carrier’s first read was middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. Wagner thundered downwards to close the cutback B-gap. Elliott then looked toward McDougald in the other A-gap and saw that closed. The running back’s sound process took him to the perimeter.

The decision to bounce on 3rd and 1 was exactly what the Seahawks wanted to force. They just needed Griffin, the contain man, to make the tackle. Unfortunately, Griffin was conflicted by Austin’s sniffer location and had already aligned inside. After reading the overall downblock motion of the offensive line, and trying to follow Austin inside, Griffin totally out-leveraged himself by moving further inside.

As the outside cornerback, Griffin’s run fit assignment is to never let the running back get close to being outside of him. His job is to turn the running back towards the help and not surrender the sideline. On this play, Elliott exploited Griffin’s relinquishing of outside-in leverage and scampered into the forbidden territory.

What should have been a 3rd down stop became a 3rd down disaster. Having just taken the lead on the previous drive and with only 1:22 left in the 2nd quarter, this was one of the biggest Seattle mistakes of the game. These types of errors result in elimination.

Griffin stiff-armed

Looking to finish the game leading 17-14 with 3:59 remaining in the game, it was smart of Dallas to return to their “duo” play. The Seahawks only had two timeouts remaining and they desperately needed to get off the field on the Cowboys’ 1st and 10.

Dallas shifted into a very similar 11 personnel look. Seattle at this point responded with nickel personnel over dime and Griffin, thankfully, remained firmly outside. The gaps for the Elliott to run through were well filled by the Seahawks once more.

Wagner was waiting clean in the B-gap. Center Joe Looney was fortunate to escape a holding call on the penetration of Poona Ford in the A-gap. K.J. Wright lurked in the playside A-gap. Elliott again read across the line of scrimmage and was forced into bouncing the run.

In stark contrast to the first play, Griffin had superb leverage here. Facing zero resistance, he came downhill outside of Elliott needing to turn the runner back inside. The corner’s biggest mistake was not staying on the near-hip of Elliott. Instead, he paused his feet as Elliott faked to cut up inside. The defender would have been better suited closing the gap between Elliott and him while attacking the near hip firmly outside-in.

The result of Elliott’s superiority was the outside opening slightly. In the footrace to the outside, Elliott gave Griffin a nasty off-hand stiff arm and shoved the hurrying cornerback to the floor. Elliott 2 Griffin 0. First down Cowboys.

Switching sides

What made the two Elliott duo runs so frustrating as a viewer, and I’m sure as a Seahawks player too, was that the rest of the defense executed. The two Griffin mistakes serve as clear examples of the importance of assignment-sound football. “Do your job” is a fatigued cliché, yet it’s so true’ just one person needs to mess up and the whole thing collapses.

It was telling that Dallas chose Griffin as the weak link rather than targeting Tre Flowers, who has largely been excellent in run support. Griffin had been guessing a lot in the latter weeks of the season, most notably biting on double moves and relying on his athleticism to recover.

A surprising aspect to 2018 was that teams didn’t target Griffin more. A bad performance was coming, it just needed a team to highlight the weakness. Sure, there’s no better coach than Carroll to rectify the sophomore problems Griffin experienced. However, there may well be offseason discussion over Griffin and Flowers switching sides in 2019.