As most loyal Field Gullians know, Matt Flynn targeted T.O. five times in the Denver game, with Terrell Owens coming away with exactly the same amount of completions as Lolo Jones has had sexual partners - zero. Quite naturally, many wondered why T.O. received as many looks as he did, leading most to speculate that Flynn was told by the coaches to prioritize getting the ball to T.O.
In re-watching the Denver game, often rewinding each play a couple dozen times, I think it's safe to conclude that no such thing was ever said to Flynn.
Through a combination of several factors, such as Flynn reading defenses pre-snap and the development of the play at the time of the throw, Flynn threw to T.O. as often as he did because T.O. was the best option for each of them. Unfortunately, no production came out of it. On two plays, T.O. was not at fault, due to Denver players impacting each - one which was Champ Bailey's superb deflection and the other was Elvis Dumervil nicking Flynn's arm as he was making the throw. Two of them, T.O. was partly to blame, not being on the same page as Flynn. And one of them was completely his fault, dropping the pass that changed (most, if not) everyone's mind about Flynn's ability to throw deep.
While I have Preseason Live, I unfortunately do not know how to take screen shots of a video from my screen and post it here, so I will simply describe the plays. (Maybe someone can help with me that and I'll edit this fanpost).
- 13:23 - 1st and 10, Seahawks on their own 25 with the ball spotted on the left hash mark.
Seahawks are in 3-Shotgun Ace. Golden Tate is lined up wide right on the weakside with Deon Butler in the right slot. Terrell Owens is lined up wide left. Broncos line up with 3-4 Cover 1 Man. Kellen Winslow is lined up strong-side left.
Standing up in shotgun, Flynn scans the defense right to left. At this point, Flynn has determined that the Broncos are playing man. When Nate Irving, who was lined up on Butler, shifts up to the weakside, prior to the snap, Flynn sniffs out a blitz on the weakside. This is significant because Owens will be one-on-one against Drayton Florence, a favorable match-up.
Flynn doesn't audible the play, and simply elects to take what the defense have given him. Indeed, the Broncos send five, with two linebackers attacking the weakside.
In less than two seconds after the snap, Flynn eyes a spot where Owens should be and fires the ball to T.O., who ran a fly route with Florence playing Owens five yards in front of him. Sure enough, as Flynn suspected, Owens was not only one-on-one, but was open. The ball flies behind Owens, uncatchable. The incompletion was not because Flynn threw a bad pass, but because Owens did not adjust his route based on the pressure from the right, something that Pete Carroll confirmed had happened on the radio this week. Flynn threw to the option spot but Owens didn't adjust accordingly.
- 6:11 - 1st and 20, Seahawks on the Denver 39 with the ball spotted on the right hash mark.
Seahawks are in 3-WR I-formation, TE strong-side left. Via Taua is lined up at FB with Lynch lined up behind him at RB. McCoy is in at TE. Tate is lined up wide right while Owens is lined up wide left.
Broncos are in 3-4, Cover 2 zone.
Flynn motions Anthony McCoy, who jogs to the right wing side of the RG before coming back to the left. While McCoy is in motion, Flynn scans the defense left to right. When no defenders adjust their positioning to account for McCoy, Flynn is able to confirm Denver's coverage: Cover 2 zone.
Ball is snapped and Flynn has just enough time to scan the field, set his feet, and fire. Prior to his pass, Flynn sees Tate and McCoy are covered. Taua, who runs a "V", has not completed his route. Like all zone defenses, there always a weak spot. Owens route is the only one that is in a weak spot, making it the only throwing lane available to Flynn. Like on the previous pass to Owens, Flynn eyes a spot where Owens should be and fires. Unable to fully view Owens' route because of the camera not being on him, it appears that Owens either ran an errant pattern or tried to improvise with a dig at the end of his route. It appears the route he was supposed to run was a 10-yard hitch in-route. For whatever reason, Owens did not run the route properly and instead, the ball went right to where Chris Harris was, and it was nearly picked off.
Like the prior pass, the two were just not on the same page.
But this is twice now that Flynn passed to Owens based on what the defense gave him, making Owens his best option. Certainly not something that would usually occur if you're instructed to prioritize a receiver.
- 5:20 - 3rd and 6, Seahawks on the Denver 25 with the ball spotted on the right hash mark.
After Marshawn Lynch had one-cut his way to 14 yards, the Seahawks line up 4-WR Shotgun Ace for 3rd and 6. Lynch is with Flynn in the backfield. I don't know who was lined up wide left, but Tate was lined up left slot, Butler on the right slot with Owens lined up wide right.
Broncos, get a little ballsy. They line up 4-4 cover 1 Man. Safety Mike Adams is lined up three yards from Butler, while Champ Bailey is lined up three yards from Terrell Owens. Safety Rahim Moore is the Cover 1 safety.
Flynn doesn't audible and calls for the snap. Ball is snapped . The Broncos send four rushers and all the receivers are in one-on-one coverage at the snap. Owens runs a streak route with Bailey running with him step-for-step, though Owens had position on him. Butler runs a deep post, which Moore converges on, leaving Owens one-on-one with Bailey. Dumervil is getting the best of Okung on this play, putting a little heat on Flynn. Seeing Moore converge on Butler, and feeling the blindside pressure from Dumervil, Flynn quickly decides on the one-on-one match-up Owens had with Bailey, which would result in a chance for a TD.
A lot of props must go to Dumervil, because he single-handedly disrupted the play, albeit barely. Just as Flynn is making the throw, Dumervil reaches out with a prayer and nicks Flynn's arm, disrupting the pass, forcing it to be thrown errantly, falling well short of Owens and out of bounds and uncatchable.
It was the right read and the right option, and neither Flynn nor Owens were at fault. Again, another throw to Owens based on what the defense gave Flynn
- 13:47 - 3rd and 6, Seahawks on their own 25 with the ball on the right hash mark
Seahawks begin their first drive of the second quarter in 4-WR Shotgun Ace Spread with double slots on the right side. Tate is wide left. Butler and Winslow are double slots on the right with Butler underneath Winslow and Owens is wide right. Washington is lined up offset from Flynn.
Broncos are 3-4 Man. Bailey is lined up 3 yards from Owens.
Sensing man coverage and blitz on the left side, Flynn scans the field, mostly on the right side. He again does not make an audible and calls for the snap. When the ball doesn't come immediately, Flynn again scans the right side again and the ball is snapped with his eyes still on the defense. Almost fumbling the snap, Flynn drops back 3 steps.
As Flynn suspects, the Broncos are sending six. They are all picked up, with Washington laying a hit on a pass rusher, allowing Flynn a clean pocket.
Owens and Winslow run crossing routes, with Winslow running what appears a fly route, while Owens is running a drag route that would set him up to catch the ball for the first down and some yards after the catch. After crossing routes, Winslow is picked up by the safety, but this frees Owens momentarily from Bailey and Owens continues half-speed as designed. Flynn sees Owens is the only receiver open, with Tate, Butler, and Winslow covered well. Picking up on this, throws to Owens right on the money, but as the pass is reaching Owens, it is deflected by Bailey, who, while not anticipating the crossing routes, recovers quickly and anticipated Owens being the intended receiver. Hustling back to Owens, Bailey recovers enough to make a spectacular deflection in mid-stride. Hard to fault Owens or Flynn when Bailey makes an outstanding play on his own.
- 12:14 - 1st and 10, Seahawks on the Denver 46 with the ball on the left hash mark
Leroy Hill had just recovered a Broncos fumble, forced by safety Jeron Johnson, falling on the ball to the Denver 46. The Seahawks respond by opening their drive with an I-formation. Tate is lined up wide left, Owens wide right. Behind Flynn is Taua at fullback, while Turbin is at running back. McCoy is lined up strong-side right.
Broncos are in 3-4 Man. Chris Harris is lined up alone three yards away from Owens, another favorable match-up. Mike Adams is covering Owen's half of the field.
Flynn scans the field. Motions McCoy to the left to see how the linebackers reacts. The defense shows man coverage.The defense suspects "run", so Flynn knows they will bite on the play action, so he reads the safeties. Adams is the only player that that will give Harris help, should Owens beat him. No audible is called.
Ball is snapped. It is play action. Broncos send six. They bite, but somewhat sloppily. Tate is running a wheel, while Owens is running a fly route. With excellent protection aided with McCoy and Turbin blocking, Flynn looks down field for Owens, makes a checkdown read to Taua, who ran a "V" to the left - he's open, but the throwing lane is terrible - and Flynn fires a beautiful deep ball to Owens, who off the camera at the time of the throw, has beaten both Harris and Adams for what would would have been a touchdown had he not dropped the ball.
Rusty or not, that was entirely Owens' fault. He gets the blame for that.
However, all five throws were based on what the defense showed and gave Flynn, so it certainly appears that Flynn was not instructed to prioritize feeding the ball to Owens.
It was not a very good game for Owens. If he can develop at least a decent rapport with Flynn (or perhaps Wilson), he should start coming down with some passes, which will give him at least a shot of making the team. His ability to work the field and get open is still very good, and he still is a very willing and able run blocker, so he has that much going for him. Yes, he is known for having drops, but his production has consistently been good enough where it outweighed the drops. Were he to produce at least half of his season averages, life will be much easier for Lynch and whoever the starting quarterback is.