As if eight tackles in two games didn’t provide enough evidence that Cornelius Griffin is loving life as Albert Haynesworth’s wingman on the Washington Redskins’ defensive line, it was confirmed earlier this week at Redskin Park.
Griffin was in the locker room - not the trainer’s room.
In his first five years with the Redskins, Griffin was the defensive tackle who absorbed constant attention from opposing guards and centers. It paid a physical toll: Most Monday mornings were spent getting treatment.
But now Haynesworth is getting extra attention, and Griffin is one of the players who is benefiting.
Griffin, who was double-teamed an unofficial seven times in 25 snaps Sunday against St. Louis, was freed up to use his strength and experience to win one-on-one matchups.
Griffin made four tackles (plus one sack and one pass break-up) according to the official league stats; the Redskins credited him with seven tackles. Regardless, a fresher Griffin has become a more productive Griffin.
“I’m not as tired after the game; my body isn’t as sore,” he said. “Last year at halftime, my body felt like it was beat even though I went into the game with a lot of energy. With two guys constantly pounding on you, it can take a lot out of you. The last two games, I’ve felt great, and my body is responding in a positive way.”
Griffin, 32, came to training camp healthy and was limited during the second session of a two-a-day so he could start the regular season fresh. Coaches have kept Griffin sharp by rotating him in and out of the lineup - he played 51 of 64 snaps against the Giants and 25 of 53 against the Rams.
The Redskins have credited Griffin with seven tackles in each of the first two games - his most stops in three years.
“I feel I have my explosion back,” he said.
Said defensive end Andre Carter: “Griff looks great. The one-on-one matchups have been great for him. Double teams take a pounding and wear you down, especially at his position. It’s something I wouldn’t want to be a part of at tackle.”
Two of Griffin’s big stops against St. Louis showed he can still play the run and rush the passer.
On the Rams’ second drive, Haynesworth was doubled by the center and left guard. Griffin went against right guard Richie Incognito. Keeping one eye in the backfield, Griffin read Steven Jackson’s intention to cut back. Incognito was already moving to Griffin’s right - Griffin pushed him aside and filled the gap for no gain.
Griffin also took advantage of a single blocker in the passing game. In the second quarter, the Rams faced second-and-10, and the Redskins rushed four. Griffin used his left arm to beat Incognito and sack Marc Bulger for a 6-yard loss - even though he was being held by Incognito (the penalty was declined).
“Those guys are much more active,” coach Jim Zorn said of the defensive line. “I don’t know if you see it the way that I do, but they’re much more active with four guys than we had last year with four guys. It’s pretty good.”
Haynesworth’s arrival has also affected Griffin’s off-field work. Griffin previously played both right and left defensive tackle, which meant studying the entire offensive line. Now he can concentrate his preparation on the opponent’s right side.
“It’s different, and I kind of like it,” he said. “I can focus on that one side - my preparation is more focused, and I can zone in on what I need to do.”
While in his last public comments - after the Giants game - Haynesworth said the defensive line is still jelling, Griffin has a grasp on what Haynesworth is doing and when he’s doing it.
“If he rushes the A gap [between guard and center], I know he’ll be there and I won’t follow behind - I’m going to wrap around,” Griffin said. “If I’m in the B gap [between guard and tackle], I know [Phillip Daniels] will come around me. We’ll play at a faster pace.”
The Redskins rank 10th in yards allowed and seventh in points but a dismal 27th on third down. With Griffin up to speed and Haynesworth working his way into shape (he played 79 percent of the snaps vs. St. Louis), look for the defensive line to be more productive.
“I think we’ll get better as the season goes along, and I think we can be a dominant force inside,” Griffin said. “But we still have work to do with each other at full speed.”