Seahawks Should Unleash Shaquem Griffin to Bolster Lifeless Pass Rush
For a team sitting pretty with a 7-2 record so far this season, the Seahawks still have plenty of concerns heading into the final seven games of the 2019 season.
Though Russell Wilson has put on his Superman cape and saved the day with four game-winning drives to help prevent Seattle from losing to several underwhelming opponents, coach Pete Carroll’s defense has been among the NFL’s worst, creating skepticism about whether or not the team belongs in the discussion as a legitimate title contender.
Over the past two weeks alone, a Matt Ryan-less Falcons squad put up 20 second half points and Jameis Winston threw for over 300 yards and the Buccaneers put up 34 points to nearly full off the upset. Those two juggernauts have combined to win three games this season.
While the secondary has endured injuries and inconsistency issues all season long, the lack of any semblance of a pass rush remains at the core of Seattle’s defensive misfortunes. Even with Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah arriving in the offseason, the team ranks near the bottom of the NFL in every meaningful pass rushing statistic.
With the trade deadline come and gone, the Seahawks don’t have the luxury of being able to seek out pass rushing reinforcements from other teams. But this late in the season, it’s clear some kind of an adjustment has to be made.
Keeping that in mind, what does Seattle have to lose by giving Shaquem Griffin a shot?
If there’s been anything that has stood about the Seahawks punch-less pass rush this season, the team has lacked an explosive edge rusher who can pin his ears back and blow past tackles to pursue the opposing quarterback.
As great of an athlete as Clowney is for his size, that’s not his game. Ansah hasn’t shown near the burst he exhibited earlier in his career either. Last year, Jacob Martin provided that presence to an extent, but he was dealt to the Texans.
Looking at the rest of Seattle’s defensive end depth, Quinton Jefferson, Rasheem Green, L.J. Collier, and Branden Jackson are all bigger bodied five-technique base defensive ends. While they’re all stout against the run, they’re not going to strike fear in opponents as speed rushers off the edge.
All offseason long, coach Pete Carroll heaped praise on Griffin as he made the transition to SAM linebacker, where he’d be able to better maximize his strengths by using his blazing 4.38 40-yard dash speed rushing off the edge. It seemed he’d have a shot to contribute as a situational rusher in sub-packages.
But now nine games into his second NFL season, Griffin has been relegated strictly to special teams. He hasn’t seen the field for a single defensive snap and even his special teams workload has decreased as the season has progressed, though those numbers can vary week to week by game circumstances.
Sure, Griffin obviously lacks the size of a prototypical edge rusher, which may be the best explanation for why he hasn’t received an opportunity. Weighing under 230 pounds, he’s not going to be transitioning to a full-time defensive end in the league.
But while starring at UCF, Griffin emerged as one of the best edge rushing defenders in all of college football. And he wasn’t just dominating American Athletic Conference competition – just ask the Auburn Tigers, who watched him dominate their offensive line to the tune of 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss during the 2017 Peach Bowl.
During his last two seasons on campus, Griffin registered 18.5 sacks for the Knights, earning AAC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2016 and a Second-Team All-American selection as a senior in 2017.
Despite that success and his positive assessments several months ago, Carroll doesn’t sound too keen on the idea of deploying Griffin as a rusher. When asked about him fitting into the pass rush plan on Wednesday, he bluntly said, “He’s always competing to help.”
That’s not the most glowing assessment from the chronically optimistic Carroll, making it appear unrealistic Griffin will be unleased anytime soon.
But what does Seattle have to lose throwing him into the fire? Even if Griffin rushes off the edge a handful of times in Monday’s game against the 49ers and doesn’t get to the quarterback, it’s not like that’s any different than the performances of his peers to this point.
And if he manages to make a hit or two on Jimmy Garoppolo? He could carve himself out a niche as Martin did during the stretch run a year ago.
No matter what, something needs to be done to try to ignite the pass rush for the Seahawks to have any chance of competing in the loaded NFC come playoff time. With nobody else stepping up so far, there’s no reason not to give Griffin an audition to see if he can provide a much-needed spark.