RENTON -- The Seahawks turned to Shaquem Griffin as a situational pass rusher a little over a month ago in an effort to help invigorate an ailing pass rush. While Griffin is still looking for his first sack as a rusher, he has already made a positive impact for the Seattle defense.
Griffin's speed into the backfield helped turn a fumbled hand off between Carson Wentz and Miles Sanders into a Seattle turnover in the team's win over the Philadelphia Eagles three weeks ago. Last Sunday night in Los Angeles, Griffin pressured quarterback Jared Goff on a stunt where he came unblocked up the middle of the offensive line as Goff sailed a pass wide of Robert Woods. The errant pass was intercepted by Quandre Diggs and returned 55 yards for the Seahawks' only touchdown of the night.
"It’s definitely a home run for me because you create opportunities for the guys around you," Griffin said. "At the end of the day, it’s a team sport. It’s not just one person out there so were you able to do your job and make something happen for somebody else it just makes the celebration even better."
Seattle moved Griffin back to his natural pass rushing role over the offseason after he struggled to adapt to playing as an off-ball linebacker during his rookie season. Griffin started his first career game at weak-side linebacker in place of an injured K.J. Wright in Denver last year only to be replaced mid-game by Austin Calitro as mistakes mounted. Griffin's time in the defense the rest of the season was extremely limited with the decision to move him back to being a pass rusher this offseason a welcome change.
"I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress," Griffin said. "It’s also a comfort level. I felt good when I moved there. I felt good rushing. I was getting a better feel for myself when I was there. I didn’t feel nervous. I didn’t feel like I was out of place."
Griffin is far from your traditional pass rusher in stature. He currently weighs in at less than 220 pounds and is just six-feet tall. The rest of the defensive ends on Seattle's roster all weigh at least 255 pounds and are at least 6-foot-2 in height. But what Griffin lacks in size, he makes up for with speed.
"I just do everything I can," he said last month after getting his first chance against the San Francisco 49ers. "I can go fast, offensive line can’t. I can bend, offensive linemen can’t. You’ve got to better utilize the things that they can’t do good and be able to work it the whole week. So my whole thing is if they don’t like bending, make them bend. If they don’t like running, let’s get them tired.
"So it’s only going to open up more and get them off the spot. As soon as they see me out there, they’re going to want to just take off and try to get to a spot that I’m trying to get to and it’s going to rush them off their spot. It’s going to rush them to open up the lanes that’s going to give me a chance to get to the QB. No one likes to feel uncomfortable out there and once you make them feel uncomfortable, that’s when things open up.”
Griffin has recorded just one tackle on defense and three quarterback hits in his 57 defensive snaps over Seattle's last four games. His most extensive playing time came against the Eagles where got two quarterback hits in 25 defensive snaps. The Seahawks are only going to use Griffin in highly likely passing situations due to his smaller size being a liability in the running game. However, Griffin is showing an increasing level of comfort as a rusher in Seattle's defense and is continuing to add more technique and understanding to his game each week.
"I think for me when I was in college all I did was just run fast, make a few moves, spin off a lot of guys and make sacks and I think now I’ve got great coaches that kind of teach me the form of everything," Griffin said. "Knowing how to use my hands, knowing what to look at. Knowing how to press the issue on different O-lineman and knowing how to take advantage of their weaknesses. It’s like more in-depth on what I need to do and now I have a rush plan. After learning from them it gave me confidence and kind of just me going full speed all the time, running all over the place being a maniac and just making plays. Now I can be maniac and make plays and do it the right way."
The Carolina Panthers could be a ripe opportunity for Griffin to get his first sack. Jadeveon Clowney could easily miss the game due to the flu and continued management of a core muscle injury, which could lead to increased chances for Griffin. Additionally, Kyle Allen has been sacked 44 times in just 11 games as Carolina's starting quarterback. The Panthers rank second in the league in most sacks allowed with 50. Only the Miami Dolphins have allowed more (51) this season.
"I feel like we got off to a good start and I was able to learn a lot from week-to-week," Griffin said. "It’s so crazy because even when you think you’re getting closer and closer you think next week is going to be the one and then you get even closer and you’re like ‘man, I could have got that sack.’ But then again when you get an interception it’s just like ‘OK, I can take that too.’ I feel like this week is going to be a good week for me."
Photo Credit: PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - NOVEMBER 24: Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles scrambles as Shaquem Griffin #49 of the Seattle Seahawks defends in the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on November 24, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 17-9. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)