Basic breakdown led to Griffin's benching

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 13, 2011 - 6:45 AM

Cedric Griffin's blown coverage earned him a benching, but not a permanent seat.

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Calvin Johnson (81) is stopped by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin

Photo: Rick Osentoski, Associated Press

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Let's start with the basics. With slightly fewer than 10 minutes left in the first quarter Sunday, the Vikings defense wasn't trying anything fancy. Cornerbacks Asher Allen and Benny Sapp were both in press coverage on Lions receivers Nate Burleson and Calvin Johnson, respectively.

Cedric Griffin apparently didn't get the memo. Standing upright and giving Titus Young an 8-yard cushion, Griffin suffered a momentary mental lapse.

Then his failure to re-route Young as he darted undeterred up the left sideline proved even worse.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford saw everything he needed. First freezing Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford with a pump fake to Johnson down the middle, Stafford then launched an easy 57-yard touchdown bomb to a wide-open Young.

Basic play call. Basic breakdown.

Griffin's absence seemed baffling. It irritated coach Leslie Frazier enough that he put the veteran cornerback on the bench for the rest of the 34-28 loss.

On Monday, Frazier still had no answers for why Griffin didn't handle his responsibilities.

"It's hard for me to explain that one," Frazier said. "He's executed that technique time and time again in his career here. So to not get it done on that play, I'm not certain why that didn't happen."

What's now uncertain at Winter Park is just how much longer Griffin will remain with the team. Young's touchdown was the latest instance in a season full of them where Griffin has wound up in the highlight package for all the wrong reasons.

He has two seasons left on his contract beyond this one. Yet if Sunday's developments were any indication, Griffin won't figure into Frazier's long-term plans.

For weeks, Frazier has been direct with his criticism. On Sunday, he delivered one of his sharper digs as he explained Griffin's benching.

"Being fundamentally sound and technique sound doesn't take a lot of talent," Frazier said. "We made that switch to get someone in there that would slow down the Titus Youngs of the world."

Young, for what it's worth, is a rookie with 35 catches for 523 yards this season.

Yet despite using the hook in Detroit, Frazier would not declare Griffin's tenure in the Twin Cities over when asked about it Monday.

"Cedric is not in my doghouse," Frazier declared. "He is a guy who has worked extremely hard for us and battled back from some tough injuries. He had some moments that were a little bit difficult, but I haven't given up on him. And I hope he hasn't given up on himself."

Having recovered from ACL surgeries on both knees in the past two years, Griffin's physical limitations were a major question mark coming into the season. Now there's fear his confidence might need repair, too.

"It's been something that has kind of been ongoing," Frazier said. "He and I have talked about it on different occasions during the year -- about just playing with the confidence I know he is capable of having. ... I don't ever want him to get down at that position. It's hard to play corner in our league when you don't play with confidence."

Added Sanford: "We still believe in Ced. It's just something unfortunate that happened [Sunday]. But Ced, he's been playing great ball around here for years. Just this year really probably hasn't went the way he wanted it to."

It likely won't end much better. As for whether Griffin will start Sunday?

"We will revisit things this week as we prepare for our next opponent and just see where he fits at that point," Frazier said. "But he is not in my doghouse at all."

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