A Look at Green Bay QB Matt Flynn, Part I

FOXBORO MA - DECEMBER 19: Quarterback Matt Flynn #10 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates a touchdown during the second quarter of the game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 19 2010 in Foxboro Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

DK edit: In light of the fact that Matt Flynn's supposed starter market has shrunk quite a bit and he now appears to be on his way to Seattle for a visit on Friday, I thought I'd re-post Thomas' scouting reports (originally published in January) to the front page.

It's unclear if the Seahawks interest in Flynn is serious - John Schneider may just be throwing him a bone to drive up his price elsewhere (yes, they are friends and yes, that can happen in the NFL), or perhaps now the potential price to grab Flynn has diminished to the point where the Hawks may make a run at him as depth/competition. As Mike Sando points out, and I agree with, "neither Flynn nor Chad Henne appears likely to receive starting money from the team. Both would presumably compete with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson if brought onto the roster."

Who knows. What I do know, though, is that Thomas worked absurdly hard at these and they're absurdly thorough and excellent.

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It seems kind of inevitable that Matt Flynn is going to dominate much of this off-season's conversations for Seahawks fans. He's that quarterback backup that has become available and that tons of quarterback-hungry fanbases hope will magically make their QB woes disappear. This is where we cite Kevin Kolb, Matt Cassel or Brad Johnson as historical examples why this doesn't work. Or where we cite Matt Hasselbeck or Steve Young as historical examples why it does work. Or we recognize that sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, and just figure it case-for-case from there.

Take Kevin Kolb. I was opposed to Kevin Kolb because I thought he had structural flaws that fit very badly with the Seahawks system and level of play at the time, specifically in being a 3/5-step rhythm quarterback with poor mechanics when asked to do anything but plant-and-throw. Anyone who remembers Tarvaris scrambling around this season will realize why that wasn't going to work with us. On top of that, Kolb simply came with a price tag that did not make sense to me (essentially a 1st and a 2nd, and a starting QB contract - six years for $65, $21.5 guaranteed).

Matt Flynn is not "this year's Kevin Kolb" because history does not repeat itself like that. For one, Flynn was not as highly-touted a prospect as Kolb coming into the NFL, he was a 7th-round pick coming out of LSU, where he backed up JaMarcus Russell and then led the team to a BCS championship. Still, the stories are at least somewhat analogous. Like Kolb, Flynn has only a limited resume to present to the NFL, and worked inside a talented and well-coordinated offense. In both cases, the quarterback position is valued highly enough that you have to be willing to give up quite a lot. Of course, there will be no picks paid unless the Packers franchise Flynn. That's no gimme, even without franchising him they should get a compensatory pick in the first three rounds, since they rarely do anything in the free agent market themselves. While franchising does come with some risks, the guaranteed money with the franchise tag (about $15-16 mil) is probably more than Flynn will get from a new team. But regardless of picks, you'll still have to swallow a starting-level QB contract for Flynn.

Is he worth a mid-level starting contract? That's what I'll aim to look at over three stories. Matt Flynn has a bunch of preseason games (including a pretty poor outing against the Seahawks) which are of limited value to scout, but I'll still look at them next week. The crux for the pro-Flynn camp comes from his two strong outings against the Patriots (which I'll look at here) and Lions (for part three). And they certainly were statistically strong, but stats really don't tell you all that much. The Patriots have been pretty awful at defense for some years now, though they did end 2010 as the 15th-ranked pass defense by DVOA. The Lions ended as the 4th-ranked pass defense.

So, he did well against defenses that are statistically not horrible, but again context and footage analysis becomes important. Belichick opened by blitzing often against the young quarterback, hoping to get him off his game, and Flynn ended the first half 11-17 for 143 yards (8.4 YPA) and 2 TDs. Compared to 13-20 for 108 yards (5.4 YPA), 1 TD and 1 INT in the second, when Belichick toned down the blitzing significantly. That difference between two halves is significant. The Patriots had (and have) a terrible secondary, but they did get decent pressure on Flynn. Similarly, the Lions get excellent pressure from their front four, but their secondary is extremely weak. Keep that in mind as I go through these games, because it's pretty important in explaining Flynn's performance.

2-7-NE 27 (10:54) (Shotgun) M.Flynn pass short middle to D.Driver to NE 11 for 16 yards (P.Chung).

The Packers are running for most of the opening drive. That causes the linebackers to bite hard as Flynn playfakes. Patriots have a man coverage scheme on the three Packer wide-outs. Chung's coverage on Driver is pretty good, and the safety Sanders is closing in. Flynn anticipates Driver's route, and threads it into the window between the cornerback and safety. Good play for the first.

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2-6-NE 7 (9:28) (Shotgun) M.Flynn sacked at NE 13 for -6 yards (E.Moore).

There's sacks you can blame the quarterback for, and then there's these. #98 just comes in free as Clifton faces two men. Clifton had such an awful, awful game. Here's an image of how Clifton thinks to stop #98 later in the game. No flag, either:

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2-10-GB 31 (5:37) (Shotgun) M.Flynn pass incomplete deep right to J.Jones (D.McCourty).

Packers in three-wide, with the TE also releasing. Flynn glances right.

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Then looks down the middle while dropping back.

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Then immediately goes for the man-on-man of McCourty and Jones, throwing a rainbow from his own 23 to the Patriots 36 (41 yards). Not a lot of zip there, but it's a decently placed ball, and McCourty makes a nice play to break it up.

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3-10-GB 31 (5:31) (Shotgun) M.Flynn pass short left to A.Quarless to GB 33 for 2 yards (D.Butler) [D.Fletcher].

Pats rush only three out of a 3-4, but the Packers Oline bites on the rush-faking linebacker, and Wilfork just bulls past Clifton. He's got a hand on Flynn, but the quarterback escapes.

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Flynn completes this pass on the run right before getting smacked by LB Fletcher coming in on a delayed blitz.

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Not exactly an award-winning play, but consider it transforms a sack into a light gain to set up better yardage for the punt, plus it's a decent display of escapability.

3-7-GB 34 (15:00) (Shotgun) M.Flynn pass deep right to J.Jones for 66 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Packers line up four wide, with Patriots in man in a 3-3 set and man coverage on the receivers. They rush only three and Flynn has all of the time he needs in the pocket. Every Packer receiver runs a comeback at around the goalline, but Jones appears to adjust his route (or perhaps it's by design) as he looks back and sees the clean pocket Flynn has. He takes two steps beyond his man (McCourty). Flynn is reading his three receivers right and recognizes Jones' adjustment, and places the ball into Jones' stride well. Damage would've been contained from here, but Meriweather (#31) straight-up tackles McCourty (#32), and it's an easy touchdown scamper from there.

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1-10-GB 36 (12:38) M.Flynn sacked at GB 29 for -7 yards (R.Ninkovich).

Patriots blitz five. Packers are in a base protect scheme. The pocket is collapsing all around Flynn: Warren is being walked out by the LG but that matchup is close, while both tackles aren't holding up against slightly delayed rushes. The blitzing linebacker, Ninkovich, steps inside Clifton who was selling the block too far to the outside. Flynn does not sense the pressure, and sits in the pocket too long.

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Flynn would later show a lot more pocket awareness versus the Lions but take this play as a good example of a pretty important flaw he has: he does hold on to the ball too long for someone whose basic bread and butter is the short passing game. That hasn't fundamentally changed in four years, so I don't think it's likely to be coached out now.

3-4-GB 24 (7:54) (Shotgun) M.Flynn pass short right to J.Jones pushed ob at GB 33 for 9 yards (D.McCourty).

This is the third play of a 14-play, 82-yard drive that took 6:26 off the clock. On that drive, Flynn was 4-4 on 3rd downs, each one converted. On his career, his highest yard-per-attempt comes on third downs, at 8.5 (7.7 is his career YPA overall), and I think that's a part of his game that sells well. That said, Rodgers' YPA tops out on third downs as well (9.3 YPA), and it is largely down to good scheming and offense. I think a lot of that stands out on this drive, so we'll look at all 3rd downs...

Packers send four wide, one on a chip and one on a delayed release. The Patriots play this one badly, with McCourty with a six-yard cushion on a 3rd and 4th situation. He is on Jones to the right, while Nelson is on Jones' outside corner, and he is jammed by his corner. There is no underneath on Jones, which makes this is a very easy pass-and-catch.

3-4-GB 39 (6:01) (Shotgun) M.Flynn pass short left to J.Nelson pushed ob at NE 45 for 16 yards (J.Page).

Nelson is uncovered running out to the sideline near the line of scrimmage. Easy dumpoff with a good block from the inside receiver, and he can run it for about 15 yards before he's stopped.

3-5-NE 25 (4:04) (Shotgun) M.Flynn pass short middle to A.Quarless to NE 15 for 10 yards (G.Guyton). P8

This is one of the more interesting looks in this game. Packers are in three wide with the tight end Quarless (#81) releasing to a short route from a halfback spot.

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The Patriots rush only three and are in a 3-3 max coverage scheme, which again gives Flynn a LOT of time. The Packers have the three wideouts and go and post routes deep, and the Pats bite hard, drawing everyone (including the three linebackers) out into the field, which means Quarless is sitting alone in the shallow middle. It looks pretty much like a beat Tampa-2 defense. Flynn is staring down his deep read to the right, before turning to the rather obvious pass down the middle. There is no one within five feet of Quarless.

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3-10-NE 15 (3:12) (Shotgun) M.Flynn pass short right to J.Kuhn to NE 3 for 12 yards (B.Meriweather).

Driver dropped the ball, and another pass goes too high for Driver in the endzone (slight miss), and we're in 3-10. Patriots rush 3 and the pocket is solid. Flynn immediately dumps it off to Kuhn.

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This is by design as several blockers released downfield. Kuhn and his blockers me 12 out of it. Kuhn even hurdled someone along his way. I'll note Kuhn was a pretty big help on Flynn's performance, this game.

1-1-NE 1 (2:20) (Shotgun) M.Flynn pass short left to G.Jennings for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.

Pack in three-wide. Driver drags his man to the corner, while Jennings jukes Arrington hard. Patriots are selling out on the blitz and Ninkovich is right in Flynn's face as he zips it on Jennings' numbers.

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The touchdown is mostly on Jennings, but Flynn does show good poise.

3-3-GB 30 (12:16) (Shotgun) M.Flynn pass short left intended for J.Jones INTERCEPTED by K.Arrington at GB 36. K.Arrington for 36 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Packers are in five wide. Patriots rush five and get good pressure. To the left of Flynn, Nelson is running out towards the sideline while Jones has a dig inside. Chung is on Nelson, and is running downfield to cover him, which results in him cutting into Jones' rout. Like so:

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This looks like a pre-determined throw, or Flynn badly misreads the situation. Either way, he zips it where Jones should be on his route, but as he sets up you can already see Jones is either going to be blocked off his route or locked into double coverage, while another receiver is completely free further to the right.

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The ball hits Arrington on the numbers. Some bad tackling later, he lands the touchdown.

1-10-NE 22 (6:31) M.Flynn pass incomplete deep left to D.Driver (K.Arrington).

All of Flynn's deep passes have a bit of a floaty rainbow quality to them, and that leads to easy interception opportunities. Take this example, with Driver on a go route, Flynn with plenty of time, sets, throws and there is double coverage on Driver, by Arrington and Meriweather. No chance, and pretty lucky Arrington didn't pick it off.

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1-10-NE 43 (3:13) M.Flynn pass deep right to G.Jennings pushed ob at NE 27 for 16 yards (K.Arrington).

Pack are in a 22 set that looks every bit like a run. Patriots rush five as Flynn playfakes it. I'm not sure what the design was here as he has no quick passing options except an outlet pass to his running back.

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Flynn instead rolls right as the pocket collapses to his left, and throws a nice pass on the run on Jennings coming back from a cross route. Great adjustment by Jennings, but nice play by Flynn too.

3-7-NE 40 (5:03) (Shotgun) M.Flynn pass incomplete deep left to A.Quarless.

Packers start in trips right, before Jones motions to the left. TE Quarless releases to a deep corner route, and Flynn throws a horrible, horrible floaty pass well over his head.

2-5-GB 48 (3:42) M.Flynn pass deep right intended for G.Jennings INTERCEPTED by B.Meriweather at NE 18. B.Meriweather to NE 31 for 13 yards (B.Jackson)
PENALTY on NE-T.Banta-Cain, Illegal Use of Hands, 5 yards, enforced at GB 48 - No Play.

Remember the deep left to Driver at 6:31? This is pretty much exactly the same play. Flynn has a lot of time. Jennings is covered very tightly by McCourty, to the point where the best-case scenario is an incomplete. Instead, Flynn underthrows another rainbow into double-coverage. The horribly-playing Meriweather cuts into the pass for an easy interception.

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It comes back on a correctly thrown flag on Banta-Cain, but the Packers mismanage this game-closing drive anyway, it ending with Flynn fumbling while not feeling the pressure around him.

I remember this game being hyped last season, and I could not take it very seriously. The Patriots defense really was (and is) quite bad, and Flynn's performance really wasn't as impressive as just looking at the numbers would tell you. He had a lot of quick passes that meshed up well the Patriots sell-out blitzes, but any deep ball looked absolutely horrible. Flynn impressed with pre-and-post snap reads, and showed good poise in the pocket, which are important assets, as is his ability to throw on the run and generally minimize losses. Otherwise, he looks like an inferior Rodgers playing in slow motion: drops back more slowly, progresses through his reads more slowly, releases more slowly, throws with less velocity. I'll talk about this more in the follow-ups.

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