On Pass Rush: Shaquem Griffin’s Breakout Day

Shaquem Griffin has been positionless in the NFL thus far. He did most of his work on the edge in college, but at 220 pounds (he is now up to 230), he didn’t project to the same spot at the next level. It was thought that his stature, speed, and motor instead figured to find him at the second level where he can roam unabated and make plays.

This past offseason, Pete Carroll mentioned that he was full go at linebacker, getting nickel work at weak-side and base work on the strong-side. Both spots in Seattle’s defense aren’t pass rushing positions, though the latter is often found on the ball. So Quem’s prospects at getting after the quarterback seemed dead in the water save for pressure and blitz packages that can see backers sent after the quarterback, accentuating their speed and schemed so as to limit contact with lineman.

Ironically, Griffin found himself back in the pass rush conversation in recent weeks due to injuries and a collectively struggling unit desperate for answers; so desperate that it meant rushing a 230 pound off-ball linebacker in obvious passing situations for a significant amount of snaps against the Eagles last Sunday.

Griffin is light. He lacks length. He lacks power. But he’s fast, sudden, and tenacious.

All of the above traits were self-evident rushing against struggling rookie Andre Dillard, who, as said, is indeed struggling, but a highly touted prospect coming out of Washington State. Frankly, Griffin getting anything done against any startable NFL offensive tackle is worth noting not only for Griffin’s development as a pass rusher (as the conversation therein is hinged on whether or not he should even be playing at the spot, let alone how good he may or may not be), but for the team’s sake as the defensive line is comprised solely of power rushers and often runs into width issues. Shaquem stressing offensive lines with speed would not only be fruitful on its own merits, but for helping provide said spacing for the rest of the line to have room to work.

Let’s cut to the chase and see the good and bad from Griffin’s breakout day. As you might guess, he brings speed above all else.

Against Philadelphia, Shaquem mainly lines up at 9-technique. Here he is rushing off the left edge in a 2-point stance:


Griffin runs a wide arc path, his speed being such that it beats Dillard to a spot (who is also alert for slant pick up), who can’t get his hands on Shaquem until the rush arc’s apex. Quem lands an inside chop, then stumbles, but is able to make contact with Carson Wentz.

He rushes speed again here and can’t quite beat Dillard’s set like he did above:


Dillard makes contact at about nine yards of depth, and rides him well past being able to bend it back to Wentz, but the rest of the line bring down the quarterback letting him get in on the pile.

The same story unfolds on this rep too:


Now, had Wentz not stepped up, it’s possible that Griffin makes contact here. But ultimately he is not able to beat the tackle on speed alone.

Shaquem’s speed is enough of a threat that tackles have to set fast to keep even. When he times up his jump, we may see him get clean wins to the outside, since he has the speed and bend to get to the quarterback. Griffin’s depth has to be severe enough though that the tackle can’t contact him, as his bend through contact is nonexistent, which is simply a function of his weight. Additionally, designed pressures will be able to build off of the speed Quem brings, naturally widening the B-gap.

With speed established, Shaquem put on tape his ability to counter to the inside as well:


Again from left 9-technique in a 2-point stance, he starts with a speed path to threaten the outside, counter swims back to the inside and gets as clean as one can flushing Wentz. The suddenness in his outside-in move mimics the agility and explosiveness of a running back jump-cutting. That is madness for a tackle to try to handle.

While I’ve mentioned Griffin’s lack of mass and the power issues that naturally follow, here he attempts the same move and doesn’t execute as well:


But he shows his ability to fight through contact and flushes Wentz again, nearly getting a sack. That’s two legit (read: not a clean up, coverage, unblocked sack) “almost sacks” he had from this game, with his traits explicitly earning him pressure! It signals the promise that he can grind through glancing contact.

When Shaquem isn’t able to clear a tackle — whether to the outside or the inside — it’s not going to look good:


As you can see, he’ll win most reps at the snap itself, or he’s dead in the water. He’s all get off, speed, and get-after-it-ness.

The theory that makes him work — speed with little to zero power element — potentially means that putting just any slot cornerback at the edge is a worthy method of finding edge rush. Shaquem is indeed inherently limited, but so long as his explosion is enough to stress the outside with frequency, he might prove to be a nickel rotational option at the defensive line. Given his known limitations, he could not have put forth a better performance in his first “real” opportunity.