Just to get back in the flow of things after my latest mini-hiatus, I thought I’d write about Michael Griffin’s interceptions in 2010. He had four, one each in four consecutive games in October, when the Titans roared to a 5-2 start and he was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month. We’ll be starting our positional analysis series soon, and I have a longer post I’ve been procrastinating on for a while looking at the defensive performance as a whole, but I thought I’d just start with this.
Interception #1, v. Denver
3-11-TEN 41 (9:59) (Shotgun) K.Orton pass short middle intended for B.Lloyd INTERCEPTED by M.Griffin (W.Witherspoon) at TEN 26. M.Griffin to TEN 35 for 9 yards (J.Gaffney).
Grififn’s first interception came in the fourth quarter of the Titans’ home loss to the Broncos. The Titans were leading 20-16, and the Broncos faced third-and-long. The Broncos are in a 3-wideout, single-back set, slot recevier to the left side. Griffin initially lines up as a single deep safety with Hope over the slot left receiver, but he backs out to turn it into a two-deep look, and the Titans end up running what looks like Tampa-2.
Lloyd is lined up split to the right side, with Finnegan on him. He gets an inside release and runs a deep in about 15 yards downfield. Orton has a fairly clean pocket and tries to fit it into Lloyd. Witherspoon is the underneath zone defender, and he tips the ball up in the air, right over Lloyd and directly to Griffin. NFL.com’s Game Rewind service has the all-22 shot, and that makes it clear this pick falls on Kyle Orton. He couldn’t possibly have missed Witherspoon and should never have thrown the ball, and that error led to Griffin’s good fortune.
Interception #2, at Dallas
1-10-TEN 21 (2:18) T.Romo pass deep right intended for M.Bennett INTERCEPTED by M.Griffin at TEN -3. Touchback (M.Austin). [play changed after replay review]
Game tied at 17 late in the third quarter, with the Cowboys right outside the red zone. They line up in a heavy set, I formation plus two tight ends, with Miles Austin the lone receiver. The Titans are in a base 4-3 set, with both Hope and Griffin lined up about 8 yards off the line of scrimmage.
Bennett is lined up in-line at the left end of the line of scrimmage. The Titans are in what looks like cover-2 zone. Bennett runs a skinny post, designed to split the two deep safeties. Romo nicely puts his throw over Tulloch, and it should be first-and-goal or a touchdown. Alas for Dallas, the ball is just a little off-either Bennett run his route a little too horizontal instead of vertical or Romo didn’t lead him quite as much as he should have. It’s a makeable but non-trivial catch for Bennett, and he doesn’t make it, tipping the ball behind him, right to Griffin, who does an excellent job of tipping the ball to himself and coming down with an interception.
When I first saw the play, I thought Bennett might have had his eyes on Hope coming for him in his line of sight, but I think the better blame is for a slightly imperfect throw. I’d say blame here for the incomplete is mostly on Bennett, maybe a little on Romo, and Griffin’s great ability turns an incompletion and what likely still is 3 if not 7 points for Dallas into a turnover.
Interception #3, at Jacksonville
3-15-JAX 23 (12:35) D.Garrard pass deep middle intended for T.Underwood INTERCEPTED by M.Griffin at 50. M.Griffin to JAX 37 for 13 yards (M.Thomas).
Titans up 7-0 in the second quarter. On third-and-long in their own territory, the Jaguars are lined up in a 3-WR, single-back set, mirrored formation, with both ends lined up inside the numbers, and both slot receivers (including TE Marcedes Lewis) about a yard off the tackle and two yards off the line of scrimmage. The Titans are in nickel, and both Griffin and Hope are at least 10 yards off the line of scrimmage at the snap, invisible on TV, though we see on replay they’re both lined up about 15 yards deep in a two-deep look.
After the snap, both slot receivers run to the flats short of the first down marker, while the ends, including Underwood, run downfield routes. Garrard moves in the pocket, and rifles the ball downfield, apparently right to Griffin, who adjusts to the ball and makes a good grab for the interception, while Underwood continues running downfield.
After the play, we see Garrard talking to Underwood, and there turned out to be a simple explanation for this interception: Underwood ran the wrong route. He was supposed to make an in-cut but instead kept running his route upfield. The pass went right by where Underwood was supposed to be, and continued right on to Griffin instead of being caught. This was another good grab by Griffin, and not every DB makes it, but that he had a chance at the ball was again the result of good fortune.
Interception #4, vs. Philadelphia
1-10-PHI 41 (8:12) (8:12) K.Kolb pass deep middle intended for J.Maclin INTERCEPTED by M.Griffin [W.Hayes] at TEN 27. M.Griffin to PHI 45 for 28 yards (J.Maclin).
Second quarter, and the Titans were trailing 3-0. This was the first play of an Eagles drive that started in good field position after Kerry Collins gave up the ball on a sack. The Eagles came out in base personnel, I-formation, with Avant lined up right against Finnegan and Maclin wide left against Verner playing off. The Titans are in base 4-3 personnel, with both safeties lined up deep before Hope creeps up to about 8 yards off before the snap.
Maclin runs a deep post, and Avant and TE Brent Celek also take off downfield. Left defensive end William Hayes beats right tackle Winston Justice badly with an inside move, and pops Kolb as he’s throwing. The ball ends up easily 10 yards short of where it should be because of the hit, and Griffin as deep safety has an easy grab.
As with interceptions nos. 1 and 2, Game Rewind has all-22 footage of this play, and it’s actually fairly interesting. After the play-fake, Hope bails out from his run-support position to join Finnegan in double coverage on Avant. Griffin, playing single-high, has to respond to Celek’s downfield right and play support there, while also giving Verner deep help against Maclin. He sees Kolb going deep and turns to get downfield to help Verner, only to see Kolb throw up a wounded duck. He then locates and adjusts to the ball to make the pick, then gets off a good return to set up the Titans’ first score.
One thing I’m not sure of here is maybe the most important thing, and that’s how Griffin would have fared on a throw where Kolb didn’t get hit and made a proper throw. Could he have broken up the throw for Maclin or intercepted it, or would he have gone for a pick and whiffed, as he did the week before on a pass Miles Austin took for a score? I think he probably would have made a defensive play on the hypothetical ball, but I can’t be sure.
There’s no possible way to draw any particularly firm conclusions from four plays over the course of a season, especially with this sort of sorting.
I will say that I don’t think Griffin caused any of the four interceptions he hauled in this year. He definitely capitalized on good fortune, but sic transit gloria mundi, as Jairus Byrd of the Buffalo Bills could tell you. Byrd had 9 interceptions in 2009 off similarly good fortune, and followed it up in 2010 with a mere one. As a Titans fan, I’ll gladly take Griffin’s four interceptions off good fortune-heck, I’d gladly take 14 interceptions off good fortune in 2011, but anybody who cites Griffin’s four interceptions as evidence of his ball-hawking ability hasn’t done anything to prove their case.
I have a feeling I’ll be writing more about Griffin this offseason.