Without Griffin, Fleener a tougher matchup

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
6:11
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s difficult being a defensive back. They want to deliver hits that make receivers wary of venturing into certain areas to go after certain throws.

But those receivers are afforded protections now, because some of those hits can be the most damaging in the game.

Enter Michael Griffin.

The Tennessee Titans free safety hardly rates as a big-hitting headhunter. He has had an up-and-down career, playing his best when surrounded by a good secondary, and struggling when he has not been. His geometry is sometimes bad and he takes bad pursuit angles. He is capable of badly missing tackles.

[+] EnlargeMichael Griffin
AP Photo/Ben MargotThe Titans' Michael Griffin was suspended for a game after a hit on the Raiders' Mychal Rivera.
But working with strong safety Bernard Pollard this year, Griffin has been pretty solid.

In terms of hits, he wavers. Sometimes he pulls off in a way that suggests he’s scared of getting fined. Then he hears that talk and doesn’t hesitate, sticking his head in and drawing flags and fines. Then he gets more passive again.

When he has been flagged and fined, he's spoken of being damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

An unnecessary roughness call resulting from a hit that removed the helmet of Oakland tight end Mychal Rivera on Sunday was enough for the league to label Griffin a repeat offender and suspended him for Sunday’s game in Indianapolis.

From the league:
“The suspension was imposed by NFL Vice President of Football Operations MERTON HANKS. Griffin may not practice this week nor play in the Titans’ game this Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. He may not participate in any football activities with the team during the suspension. Griffin will be reinstated on Monday, December 2. …

Griffin was penalized for unnecessary roughness in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders for delivering a blow to the head of a defenseless receiver, Oakland tight end MYCHAL RIVERA.

The violation was Griffin’s second this season and fourth since 2011, all for striking defenseless players in the head and neck area.

Griffin tweeted out an apology:
"Just want to say I apologize to the fans, organization, and teammates. I also apologize to Rivera. I was just trying to do my job but ended [u]p costing my team. Don't know what else to do except for appeal. Again I apologize."

Griffin went low, which is what players do when trying to avoid head shots. But Rivera was also going to the ground. Griffin hit Rivera in the head with his right shoulder, knocking Rivera's helmet off. I think the primary issue is that Griffin put his head down as he closed on Rivera, meaning he wasn’t in good position to see what he was hitting and how.

The Titans will now try to get to 6-6 in Indianapolis without Griffin. Veteran George Wilson, who plays as the third safety, should start as he did on Nov. 3 in St. Louis when Griffin was out with a quad injury.

The Titans typically play Wilson on the tight end, but that was not their strategy in the their Nov. 14 30-27 loss to Indianapolis.

Wilson played only one snap on defense and tight end Coby Fleener caught eight passes for a game-high 107 yards with cornerbacks covering him much of the time.

Tennessee will have one less option in the rematch at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Wilson is the lone free safety available with Griffin out. They could bring back recently cut Corey Lynch.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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