“He has all of those commercials for a reason,” Seattle Coach Pete Carroll said.
There is no sure-fire blueprint yet, no defensive recipe that might neutralize both Griffin’s passing and running abilities. Seattle’s defensive coordinator, Gus Bradley, has been studying film and he learned quickly what every other defensive coach who has faced the Redskins picked up on: It could be a no-win situation. Defenses can’t give Griffin too much time in the pocket, but they also can’t allow Griffin to scramble around the end.
“He has a chance to run when you bring a lot of pressure,” Bradley said, “and he can find things when he extends the plays. That’s when he had some of his big plays. We have to pick and choose our times when to do it.”
The general plan for Washington foes has called for speed along the edges to contain Griffin in the pocket. But defenses must also put ample pressure on the quarterback because he’s such a sharp passer.
The Seahawks, who gave up the fewest points in the NFL (15.3 per game), have encountered similar foes and have found success defending the read option.
The most mobile quarterback the Seahawks have faced was Carolina’s Cam Newton in October. Seattle won the game, 16-12, and forced Newton into perhaps his most ineffective outing of the year. Newton finished 12 of 29 passing for 141 yards. Newton was the Panthers’ leading rusher, but he carried the ball just seven times for 42 yards, losing a fumble.
The Seahawks also faced San Francisco and Colin Kaepernick on Dec. 23, beating the 49ers, 42-13. Kaepernick’s passer rating of 72.0 was the worst of his seven starts this season, and the team spent most of the day trying to dig itself out of a hole. (Kaepernick was 19 of 36 for 244 yards, one touchdown and one interception. On the ground, he had 31 yards on seven carries.)
“It is different, though,” Bradley said. “Everybody has their own tweak on the option. . . . San Francisco has their own style, Carolina has their own style, and Washington definitely has their own style with theirs.”
Against Newton, the Seahawks leaned heavily on their big cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and especially Brandon Browner, to help control the edges. But Seattle players say the corners might not play as big a role defending the run Sunday, which means the Seahawks could be counting on strong safety Kam Chancellor and rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
“He’ll attack the perimeter,” Bradley said of Griffin, “but a lot of the plays are more inside, attacking our inside coverage guys, deep developing routes. They do take a lot of shots, so that’s where Brandon and Sherman really have to play well.”
A lot, too, could depend on just how mobile Griffin appears Sunday. He hasn’t shown the same burst of speed since injuring his knee last month.
“Even now coming back from injury, he’s still playing well and still executing great game plans,” Carroll said. “He’s just an amazing player, and he has extraordinary accuracy.”
Of the 31 NFL passers with at least 270 pass attempts, Griffin has thrown the fewest interceptions (five). Sherman, the Seahawks’ top cornerback, was tied for second in the league with eight interceptions and will try to add to that total Sunday.
“He takes some risks,” the second-year cornerback said. “He throws the ball up. He’s got a strong arm. They run a lot of play-action.”
Griffin’s nine completions last week against Dallas were his fewest in a game. His completion percentage (50 percent) was also a season-worst, and it was just the fourth time Griffin failed to throw at least one touchdown pass.
In the team’s 3-6 start, Griffin topped 200 yards in six games. Since then, during the Redskins’ seven-game winning streak, Griffin has thrown for more than 200 yards only twice. In that time, though, the Washington has become more versatile and finished the season with the league’s top-ranked rushing attack.
“It’s kind of pick your poison with what you focus on,” Bradley said. “They’re just very talented, and the stats show it.”
The Seahawks owned the league’s fourth-ranked defense, allowing just 306.2 yards per game, solid against both the run and pass. On Sunday, coaches know if they focus too much on Griffin, the Redskins can always keep the ball on the ground. Alfred Morris was the NFL’s second-leading rusher with 1,613 yards as a rookie, just 23 yards more than Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch.
“He’s very much like the running backs that Mike has had all of those years in Denver,” Carroll said. “Guys didn’t know about him, and the guy has elevated and rose to the occasion, and became a great player for them.”