Still, the coach was asked, doesn’t Griffin have a weakness? What is his kryptonite? The coach thought for a moment and then shook his head.
“I wish I had some,” said the coach, who requested that he not be identified in exchange for sharing his scouting report on Griffin.
Nine games into Griffin’s first NFL season, opposing teams are working overtime to find ways to stop one of the league’s most dynamic big-play threats.
“Just hit everybody,” New York Giants defensive lineman Chris Canty said. “If you knock everybody down, you don’t have to worry about anything.”
The truth, though, is that defenses have begun to find more specific ways to limit Griffin, if not neutralize him. After interviews with several coaches and defensive players who have studied Griffin, as well as evaluation of the Redskins’ past two games, it is clear that the most popular and successful methods of stopping Griffin have been to keep him in the pocket and eliminate his ability to break off big runs. Basically, force him to become one-dimensional — and rely on his offensive teammates to make mistakes.
“Sometimes it’s not necessarily to make him make a play, as much as making him make a decision,” the NFL coach said.
In losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers, the Redskins’ final two games before the bye week, Griffin was held to a combined 392 passing yards and 61 rushing yards. Other than a game against Atlanta last month, in which he left in the second half with a concussion, those contests represent his lowest two-game yardage totals.
Coaches have learned the hard way to pay close attention to Griffin. If “you turn your back and you’re running downfield,” the head coach said, “he’s out of the gate, because he’ll see it.”
The adjustments have begun
Griffin saw it more than a month ago. When he broke a 76-yard touchdown run Oct. 14 against the Minnesota Vikings, it was a glimpse of the rookie’s improvisational and big-play capability. But it also served as a case study for opposing coaches and what can go wrong if they don’t adjust to Griffin’s talents. Two Vikings linebackers had pursued Griffin, opening a gap; from there, Griffin simply beat the Vikings’ pursuit angles.
“He just outran them,” Carolina Panthers Coach Ron Rivera said.
In the time since that long run, defenses have begun assigning at least one defensive player to watch Griffin at all times. They also have emphasized that defenders must keep Griffin in front of them, though they admit this is not always easy.
“You’ve got a lot you have to defend,” New York Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said.
Defenses have faced a difficult reality since that Minnesota game: Surrender shorter runs and more first downs, with the understanding that it will reduce how often Griffin celebrates in the end zone. In the Redskins’ past three games, defenses have allowed Griffin to average 5.8 yards per carry, but he has only three runs of at least 10 yards — and none in the past two games.