One of the many vexing questions leftover from the Seahawks’ season-ending divisional playoff loss was whether the outcome might have been different had Seattle adjusted its defense to have cornerback Shaquill Griffin cover Green Bay’s Davante Adams as often as possible.
Adams was a one-man wrecking crew on the Seahawks with eight catches — all of which went for first downs or touchdowns — for 160 yards and two scores as Green Bay beat Seattle 28-23.
Much of Adams’ damage came when matched up against right cornerback Tre Flowers or nickel Ugo Amadi, or a combination of the two, including both touchdowns, as well as a catch for a first down on the final drive in which Green Bay ran out the clock.
That, along with Flowers’ increasing struggles as the season wore on, led to the question of whether Seattle would have been better off putting Griffin on Adams exclusively.
Griffin said this week he is happy to accept that task if the team asks.
Griffin and his twin brother, Shaquem, have been making the media rounds at the Super Bowl this week, and during an interview with NBC Sports Northwest, Shaquill Griffin was quoted as saying he has been “talking to some of the coaches” about potentially being assigned to cover a specific opposing receiver more often, referred to as “traveling” or “shadowing.”
“I want to work on more man press techniques and be able to move around,” Griffin was quoted as saying. “If one game I have to be in the slot — maybe travel a little bit more.”
As longtime Pete Carroll-era Seahawks watchers know, though, that’s something the team has rarely done, even when it had almost-certain Hall of Fame corner Richard Sherman’s services.
Sherman almost always stuck to playing on the left side, or the right side of the opposing offense, viewed as the more critical side because most quarterbacks are right-handed.
Sherman was asked a few times to shadow a specific receiver, notably holding Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown to six catches for 51 yards in 2015. He also was assigned to Brandon Marshall against the Jets in 2016 and the 49ers’ Torrey Smith that same season. (Showing that that strategy is hardly foolproof, though, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger simply looked to other receivers than Brown in 2015 as the Steelers threw for 480 yards, the second-most ever against Seattle).
In general, Carroll has preferred to leave his corners on one side. The ideal, of course, is that the team has two equally good corners and an opponent has no real preferred side to try to attack.
But Carroll, whose defense has always been regarded as among the least-complex in the NFL, also prefers to leave corners to one side in part out of an overall defensive philosophy of trying to keep things as simple as possible so that the individual players are freed up to play as fast as possible.
Dan Quinn, Seattle’s defensive coordinator during the two Super Bowl years of 2013 and 2014, used to laugh and tell people to blame him whenever the topic of Sherman’s use arose.
“The style that we play I don’t think warrants us just constantly matching up against a player,’’ Quinn said in 2014. “Now, in certain packages we might. But I really like our system — I think they play well in it because they understand it.’’
A few years ago, Carroll explained that it’s not as easy as it may seem to just flop corners based on where receivers line up.
For one, there’s the fact that the other corner, or corners depending on the defense, have to move, too. One of Carroll’s beliefs is that the fewer moving parts, the fewer chances for mistakes. The more guys running around before the snap trying to figure out who to cover, the better the chances for something to go wrong.
“It’s not just him,” Carroll once said. “It has to do with the other guys, the other player is flipping as part of that variable.”
And if, say, the Seahawks wanted to have one corner shadow one specific receiver, they’d have to have the other corner spend the week practicing on both sides to get used to the differing footwork and technique playing on the left and the right, as well as the natural instinct involved in playing deep passes (even Sherman used to concede that having to be equally proficient in the footwork on each side presented a challenge).
Not that some teams and corners don’t do it.
And there’s no question that Seattle needs better play out of its corners other than Griffin. Intriguingly, Flowers’ overall stats this year may not be as bad as would be expected — according to Pro Football Reference Flowers allowed a passer rating when targeted this year of 72.5 compared to 106.9 as a rookie in 2018 and better than the 97.3 of Griffin, though Griffin was targeted far less, 77 times compared to 101 for Flowers. One reason for Flowers’ better passer rating is that he had three interceptions this season while Griffin didn’t have any.
Given Carroll’s history — and he turns 69 in September — he’s probably not going to start making massive philosophical changes.
That means the best guess is that the Seahawks will embrace that Griffin is showing the confidence to want to take on even more challenges as his enters his fourth season. It’s also the final season on his rookie contract, meaning he’s going to want to set himself up for a potential big contract. So Seattle is hoping that Flowers bounces back, or that they find someone else who can step in on that side and continue playing in the same basic style that they have for years.