If you saw the game, this GB-DET matchup, saw the highlights, or heard the news that put Flynn's name in the QB prospect discussion for needy teams from, "Don't forget Matt Flynn," to, "If you're picking 3rd or lower, maybe you should first look at Matt Flynn" -- if you know about the game, you know it got markedly better.
By this point, we've pulled some positives out, but acknowledged unimpressive play despite the points & production. The positives seem applicable as factors in a successful career. The unimpressive play doesn't yet hold the same potential for long-term implications, it seems to me. It comes in large part from the obvious strength of all the pieces around him, and no discernible impact above "starting replacement level" (below average but somehow starting) quarterback play.
But on the other hand I think it's more difficult for me to identify harbingers of doom in QB play than it is to find harbingers of CandyMountainness. That holds form with Flynn, largely because we're not seeing him respond, adapt or transcend more formidable circumstances. We can see he's achieving as much production, in this single game here, as you could ever ask for, and we can temper that by pointing out the situation he's in is absolutely optimal, but we don't know how he deals with real, unrelenting pressure, because we didn't get to see it.
We don't know how he's able to balance gunslinging and prudence, whether confidence is a requisite component to his success, which could be completely undermined by some game-deciding mistakes, whether defensive tactical responses to his tendencies will be insurmountable.
That's the Dark Matter of the NFL. We've got a cosmic microwave background that indicates there is Dark Matter, but we don't have the mechanism to find & observe the WIMPs.
It's important for me to call this out, here, or you & I could get carried away in our excitement. The remainder of the game was pretty impressive.
- 1st-10: rollout. Low probability attempt to lure the Lions into run defense & spring an open guy downfield. Didn't work, Flynn runs out of bounds for a modest gain. Fox shows some nice angles that reveal a couple guys were actually decently open, but the nature & direction of the rollout tells us Flynn read those & elected not to take those shots because of the cross-field nature of them. Well, Nelson is more just deep in front of him, but either way the rollout makes the throws awkward and a little risky. Flynn is playing within the bounds of what opens up for him, here, which means little but at least he didn't blow it. Earlier on he showed me some more deliberate quarterbacking that made me wonder what it would take for him to not take a shot. No foolishness is better than foolishness.
- 2-9-DET 19 (1:04) (Shotgun) 10-M.Flynn pass short middle to 87-J.Nelson to DET 7 for 12 yards (27-A.Smith). Good read & decision making here.
Nelson is going to cut inside with a nice step on his man and loads of space. Driver, on the other hand, is milking a small step on his man down the seam and has turned ready for the ball. Safety is off screen but the camera tracking the ball reveals he was quite deep in the end zone, standing post. Driver's seam route is the kill shot, the score throw, but Driver's not as quick and it's a smaller window. The Nelson completion is an easy, easy throw, as is the followup play, the Nelson hitch for the TD. But given the protection Flynn enjoyed, the decision between the options (he reads both) is a nice positive. Particularly given the aggressiveness earlier.
- A near coverage sack, I don't count as holding the ball too long. I can see that Flynn could have that propensity, and I'd probably expect a little bit of it initially should he transition to an offense with lesser protection. Or should I say, with a less favorable protection-and-weapons pairing, since these receivers get open so quickly. Sometimes I think of the passing game as sort of a race between the offensive tackle and the cornerback. Eventually the defensive end and the wide receiver will win, but the question is who comes free first and can the QB move the ball before the DE wins and after the WR wins.
- (8:13) (Shotgun) 10-M.Flynn pass short middle to 25-R.Grant for 80 yards, TOUCHDOWN [54-D.Levy]. PENALTY on GB-25-R.Grant, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, 15 yards, enforced between downs. Here is that play we saw earlier, on a 1st & 10. The one where 22 personnel kept the Lions in base but GB splits Finley wide right forcing LB DeAndre Levy to cover WR James Jones. It's a nice mismatch creator. McCathy tried to lure the Lions into covering that mismatch with a safety shift and went straight to Finley by design. The followup would then figure to take advantage of the uncertainty, but again they go away from the mismatch. Same distance, but on 2nd down. Detroit, determined not to be dictated by mismatches, sends Levy who blitzes like a Mack Truck, gets a huge head of steam going, but it's just too deep a starting point. Ryan Grant barely impedes his way and gets turned around instantly for the last-moment-possible screen, then takes it to the house. So close, yet so far away.
- It's a little understandable that an offense like this can be easy to become overconfident in. A couple wideout screens, always working, and then Alphonso Smith jumps your route for a big interception return.
- Finley cuts open mid field. Good, well-led throw but these receivers are super human and it ends up behind Finley. Behind Finley where the defender wasn't.
- (3:48) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 10-M.Flynn pass incomplete deep left to 80-D.Driver. PENALTY on DET-21-E.Wright, Defensive Pass Interference, 21 yards, enforced at GB 43 - No Play. Flynn makes a good prensap read, Fox picks up on it. Flynn tells Driver to adjust his route, and that he's going to him. Lions are in press, deep post safety. Driver beats the press and has plenty of space in front of him, but the pass isn't quite on the mark. I think what Flynn saw, or expected, was a press front and cover 3 shell, meaning nickelback Eric Wright would be cutting underneath. At least that's what would make the most sense to me, based on how the play unfolds. It turns out to be man coverage with the FS playing center field. I get the sense that the original play might have had just as much chance at success, or more, but I like the boldness of attacking a wrinkle he thinks he sees, and the outcome is a success.
- The next play, the Nelson TD is another one of those situations GB likes to take deep shots on. TE DJ Williams' motion and the hard count lure the safety in by two steps which opens up the shot to Nelson. Nelson's superb body control & adjustment bring it in. Pass is good but not great. Yeah, I see the lofty rainbow here Beekers mentioned (which I probably wouldn't have noticed myself without him calling it out). I note the Williams check down there would have been a decent option for a 1st down if the situation warranted more prudence.
- Flynn's gotten a bit more into the groove, now. Better play overall, less to criticize aside from the still-undesirable dropback mechanics. You know that old silver lining platitude about how maybe a loss, an INT, a mistake can make a guy or a team better in the long run? I like Flynn's play better since the INT. A bit more urgency or aggressiveness in the < 1 minute drill, but that most likely stems from the coaching approach to the situation.
- 3-1-GB 26 (10:25) 10-M.Flynn pass incomplete deep middle to 89-J.Jones. Poor accuracy on a frozen rope (nice to see considering the lofty rainbows) after some hesitation but tremendous protection. About 30 yards deep. On a 3rd & 1. The truth is you just don't run the ball very well, do you GB? All the positive runs you get just come off of scaring defenses with your willingness to go for a home run on 3rd & 1. If I didn't know better I'd say New York is the worst possible matchup for you out of all 7 other remaining playoff squads.
- When in doubt, GB will just go with multiple come back routes. It simply works too well.
- (4:41) 10-M.Flynn pass deep middle to 87-J.Nelson for 58 yards, TOUCHDOWN [98-N.Fairley]. Nelson skinny post due to very good patience on Flynn's part. Throw is on the money, though. Nelson doesn't even get a good release or break, he just uses the corner's hips against him -- Nelson's angle relative to the corner, is moving toward the outside; when the CB begins to turn, he cuts inside -- then outruns him.
- Ndamukong Suh creates good pressure, but the pressure he creates just goes a little further. Because when he beats his man your life is in danger. Eyes don't stay down field. He beats his man, he beats the play.
- I love defensive line play. I'm watching the GB passing game, so I don't notice what has changed, what adjustment caused the Detroit pass rush to finally get turned on, but it's on, now. I'm intrigued but I have no time to investigate. It's making no discernible difference on Flynn, though. As a team looking for a savior, this has good and bad implications. He's not rattled, but he's also gone from being preoccupied with making sure all the blocking assignments are correct, to tuning out the world except him, the ball, the receivers and the pass coverage. In a suboptimal situation, he could be chronically preoccupied, become rattled, and less effective. Or when given adequate protection and he gets into a rhythm, some timely manufactured pressure could bring him crashing down.
- Another TD. Well hey, Flynn is playing well. He sees an overload on his left, so he first looks to the crossing route on the right that will go through the vacated area. Driver for the score. I had no intention of going here, when I started this, but I'm going here: this raises a serious question about Aaron Rodgers' eliteness. How unstoppable would Philip Rivers be in this offense? How would Matt Hasselbeck be performing at this age, had he signed some backup contract with GB and then Rodgers got hurt? Kyle Orton would be pretty good with this offense. Andy Dalton. Christian Ponder. They'd still be dangerous playoff teams, at the least.
Outlook on Flynn?
I like how Matt Flynn performed in an optimal situation. About a half-quarter in, and it became almost mundanely redundant to see chunks of yardage eaten up and TDs plucked like late season low-hanging fruit. He played the part well and he did little wrong once the interception brought the head check.
So he tore the Lions apart because the Packers, without Rodgers, without Greg Jennings, with Chad Clifton only in for a quarter & a half to see if he's physically ready to return for the playoffs, is still just that good. When Clifton went out they shifted the starters, brought in Evan Dietrich-Smith, and didn't miss a beat. It wasn't until later that the Lions somehow began to pressure better (but not nearly enough).
So we know all that, it's been well established. We can't speak to the dark matter except to point out that it exists. The translatability here is, he can perform well when given the tools. He's got the decision-making capability to respond to protection issues, or lesser weapons in better coverage.
Two common comparisons, while easy comparisons, truly seem to be the best comparisons. And yes, they are also Matts. And they make for good sign posts on the floor-to-ceiling continuum of Flynn's prospects.
Cassel, like Flynn, was not a starter in college, and was not a highly graded prospect. A competitive QB with the mental makeup, some accuracy, but only barely meeting the physical requisites of the NFL, Cassel appeared to have bloomed late in substitution on a great offense, was made a starter, and despite the Chiefs' 2010 playoff appearance, has struggled to be effective, largely on account of harmful mistakes. It's apparent he was not prepared for difficulties the Chiefs offense presented, coming from that optimal situation.
Replace "Cassel" with "Hasselbeck" in that paragraph, except he was a college starter, the blooming occurred in preseason, and the Packer offense then was good but not great.
To me Cassel is playing as though Jon Kitna's pinnacle is now his ceiling. Kitna took a long time to become an effective downfield passer, who was undone by his inability to solve his major ball control and pressure awareness issues. Calling that Flynn's floor, then, would be generous. Cassel, currently, is a decent descriptor of a floor. It all depends on how quality an offense he'd be inserted into.
Hasselbeck as a ceiling, how attainable is that? Well my main takeaway from this study is the difference the receivers make, and how an average tools guy with a decent but untested head on his shoulders can shred a professional defense. In limited action I'd go so far as to say with a great offense, Flynn has surpassed a Hasselbeck ceiling. With that kind of offense I think Tarvaris Jackson would attain a Hasselbeck ceiling. I think Matt Cassel did for a year. With just a decent offense, I believe Flynn would still at least approach a Hasselbeck ceiling, but I'm not confident in that assessment. Just too little information.
Fit for Seattle?
As far as we can tell, Seattle wants a mobile and strong-armed QB who's capable but prudent, to place inside a run-oriented offense. Flynn is mobile but not the kind of mobile a mobile-seeking team looks for. His arm strength is totally Hasselbeckian, a deal-breaker almost no where, but along the range of valuation of arm strength, I believe Seattle lies somewhere in the middle of the "more-valued" pack.
So he doesn't quite fit the bill. Still, I don't believe he's outside their range, he's demonstrated capability of what they want, and I believe the fringe benefit of not costing draft capital is of more value to them than to some of us fans. It would be a significant surprise if they didn't pursue him to some extent. I don't know what kind of contract they'd be comfortable with, or their interest in outbidding other determined suitors. But they'll at least make a play for him I'm sure.
Flynn is an upgrade to the position, no doubt. Which would also factor as a significant upgrade to the entire team. We have the makings of a very good team, and the offense could be very good, but he's sure to face more pressure and have lesser receiving options on a consistent basis in Seattle, and that is thoroughly untested.
That kind of makes him like an older rookie in the mold of Matt Leinart or Jimmie Clausen, aggressive, average tools guys who can tear a defense apart on a superior offense, highly-graded performance & talent-wise. Were you hoping for better comps? I'd toss out the attitude & commitment questions of those two, which may not be entirely how & why they failed, but certainly factored. I think they're good comps because Flynn still could fail in so many ways, and those two with different mental makeups could still have found professional success the way that Flynn's Detroit game here suggests he's capable of.
He's not the prospect that Robert Griffin III is. He's less risky, but not by much. Doesn't have the same ceiling or potential that Griffin does. He's ready now, and so is this team that they built. He's less costly, and Carroll apparently recognizes that great QBs yet nonetheless rise or fall as the talent of their offense does. I haven't studied anyone in the draft but I'm convinced that Flynn and a 1st round pick are a better option than a 1st round QB, which may well cost more than just a single 1st.
But that's just me, liking another less-risky, lower-ceiling QB prospect. I'm starting to recognize I'm a sucker for these guys.