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Cedric Griffin lacing up his track shoes

10/6/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Assigning blame and credit in pass coverage is a tricky business in the NFL. The closest defender isn't always responsible, and sometimes a smart adjustment by one player makes another look good.

In that context, we can't specify how many completions Minnesota cornerback Cedric Griffin has given up this season. What we can tell you is that opponents are targeting him frequently -- enough to make him the Vikings' fourth-leading tackler, an ominous statistic for an NFL cornerback. Griffin doesn't have an interception this season, has batted away only one pass and faces a stiff challenge Monday night against New Orleans' top-rated passing offense.

Speaking last week in the Vikings' locker room, Griffin acknowledged he is being picked on this season but attributed it to a pair of extenuating factors:

  • The presence of veteran Antoine Winfield on the other side of the Vikings' defense. Teams naturally prefer to throw away from Winfield, Griffin said.

  • His status as the right cornerback. According to Griffin: "Most teams are right-handed, and the ride side is usually the single-receiver side ... where they run their outs and curls. I love playing right corner because I get a lot of action."

Griffin, of course, has seen a lot of action in part because he hasn't stopped receivers from catching medium-range passes in front of him. Vikings coaches note Griffin has given up only one long pass play, a 58-yard completion to Indianapolis receiver Anthony Gonzalez, and they don't appear unhappy with his performance.

Here's how defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier assessed Griffin's play thus far:

"Some people have caught some passes underneath, some outs and some curls, and with the exception with that one play with [Anthony] Gonzalez, he's done a good job of not allowing big plays over the top of him. That's what we ask him to do in our scheme. As long as he does that and tackles well ... then he'll be fine. There are things that people try to do because Antoine [Winfield] is such a good player on the left side. He's holding his own. You just have to do a good job of tackling and not giving up big plays over the top and we'll be fine."

From our vantage point, a collection of 7-yard receptions can hurt a defense just as much as one long pass. Griffin is a physical player, but it only takes one missed tackle to turn a short pass into a big play. It seems fair to expect opponents to continue targeting him unless he tightens up his coverage enough to make an interception or at least break up passes more consistently.

Griffin doesn't disagree, but said the worst thing he can do is start pressing for an interception.

"You can't be too aggressive out there," Griffin said. "You have to patient, you have to relax and you have to have a lot of confidence. When my time comes ... to get some picks, it's going to come."

Monday night would be a good time for the Vikings.