Matt Flynn on Tape Part I

I skipped New England & preseason; the Patriots are too star-making a pass defense and preseason doesn't face game plans & starters. There are already difficult, inseparable factors in scouting Flynn that can easily mislead, for example the Packers offense, or the situation vs. Detroit, which was meaningful for the Lions but not Green Bay. So I'm glad Thomas put forth such an in depth and diligent study on those games. I'll be interested to see how our notes on the Lions game differ.

What I like about Field Gulls is we prefer to make up our own minds. We want to see the substance, not the interpretation. But this depth of analysis is always interpretation, and play-by-play breakdowns can become too extensive, too burdensome not just to read, but to write. For my own self interests I'm going to mold this into more of a narrative form, substantiating with examples. I'll hang on to the lengthy notes in case they prove useful later.

It might be nice to start off with a brief take on what kind of factors lead QB prospects to fail, and how. As far as amateurs like us can discern. Well, we know the key elements of success: decision-making & accuracy are the twin imperatives, with pressure response and NFL velocity the third & fourth key yet somewhat distant major factors. That's a flatly unfounded assertion on my part, but I stand by it. There are still several different nuances to a prospect's game, I believe, that can lead them to fail by way of impeding those factors.

I say decision making rather than reading a defense, because it's truly the more apt quality, though reading the defense is part of it. Inability to read coverages or pressure packages can and has turned out to be the fatal flaw for some QBs, but I don't think it's that common, and I don't think it's that integral. I think it varies by offensive philosophy, but otherwise what QBs read are mostly openness of routes. An in-breaking route needs to know where the safety & underneath dropback coverages might be lurking. A deeper route outside the hashmarks warrants a more nuanced grasp of spacing, and if a QB fails to anticipate a breaking route, or see the opportunity for a home run pre-snap, then points can be left on the field, the QB can impede his own rise to the top, but it's not a significant point of failure, I believe.

Decision making, on the other hand, is critical. Either the wrong decisions or an inability to process quickly enough to capitalize just might be the single greatest source of failure for QBs. So these will be the key things kept in mind as we review this game.

The observations & examples used to build this narrative and eventual analysis:

  • Flynn definitely had some butterflies to start off this game. The first two drives, he appeared overly preoccupied with both blocking assignments and what the receivers were supposed to be doing. He called DeAndre Levy's number on two of the first drive's plays, and it seemed to me unnecessarily. Counting the box, counting the receivers sent, it just didn't seem to be a factor for the protection.
  • It's certainly not something I'd expect to be a lasting dynamic to his game, so it's not a reason for concern. What's more, I find it to be somewhat positive: he demonstrated a solid grasp of the entire offense, the roles of both protection and receivers. It's a complicated, but not exotically complex, offense.
  • First drive is rather poor, though. First play is all about the extremely generous off coverage the Lions give. Floated a bit of a lame duck out of bounds the next play. He was hit as he threw, though. Mechanics are fine, but not fluid. The way he sets at the end of his dropback reminds me of Tarvaris Jackson in its sloppiness, and in its lack of any indication that it affects his play. Drive ends in a strip sack. It was aggressively going for the deep option on the prior play, a little reckless, that set that up. And the receivers were instantly open, too. He didn't anticipate an escape route out of the pocket, just looking to gun things down field. Boy needs to settle down.
  • Throughout, Flynn shows a ton of confidence in his receivers. As does Rodgers. As is completely warranted.
  • These GB receivers get open quickly. The line is good, QB is good, but man, their receivers open up a lot for them. Wideout contributions to great offenses might still just not be adequately recognized in football, a surprising thought. 2nd drive, in an instant Flynn has a couple options here, really with a single read. Goes to Finley due to the way the defender is facing, a good quick decision. Throw isn't on the mark, though, incomplete. Next play, slowest breaking receiving options so far in the game, but protection is good and so becomes a good play: the throw to Finley is a good one.
  • Still playing mechanically aggressive from nerves. I imagine as an anointed or earned starter his nerves would factor even less, he'll become more calm & comfortable. One little flicker of a thing that points toward potential improvement over this current level of play.
  • Even on a 1st & 10 run that doesn't seem to be an audible, the preoccupation with wideout positioning & motioning continues. Certainly the QB surveys the threats ahead of him and it's common to call out a number or call a shift. The good news is he's capable of incorporating that consideration into his presnap coverage reads. He's not being given a dumbed down role with hand rails, that much is clear. Greg Cosell has used a quote from Josh McDaniels multiple times, that presnap "is where the magic happens." I don't know how to compare his presnap performance to other QBs, but he's demonstrating the ability to handle it so the more I digest it, the more I take it as a positive despite unimpressive play thus far.
  • 2-6-GB 46 (9:53) (Shotgun) 10-M.Flynn pass incomplete short right to 25-R.Grant. A little hypersensitive to front-pocket pressure here. He dropped his eyes, couldn't roll laterally, and clumsily tossed one into the dirt towards Ryan Grant. The two short-breaking routes on the left would have been the only options at this point, but Ndamukong Suh eliminated the throwing lane. Flynn didn't make a poor decision; he didn't really have another reasonable option. But the reflex he demonstrated in the face of pressure bodes poorly: drop the eyes, end the play.
  • 3-6-GB 46 (9:50) (Shotgun) 10-M.Flynn pass deep left to 87-J.Nelson pushed ob at DET 36 for 18 yards (27-A.Smith) [92-C.Avril]. More preoccupation. It's decent leadership dynamic -- leadership is a throwaway term but in the aggressive world of football, testosterone runs high and any hint of a deferential QB is a sign that he sees himself more of a contributor, a role player, to execute QB plays from the QB position. Flynn is demonstrating the ability to lead his team down the field, in a quite vested and proactive way, and has a solid grasp of the roles of the weapons and protection of the entire offense, so that's impressive. Way easy to overstate the impact of that. But also, in recognizing the easily-overstatedness of intangible qualities like these, easy to understate. The play: Good escaping the pocket, reading downfield, makes a nice throw to an open Nelson.
  • These Lion corners are not as good as their pass DVOA would suggest. Greg Jennings is also out, it's worth noting for Flynn's sake. But the Lions pass defense must come from the front four and situation. Their potent offense puts pressure on the opposing offense, and one common tactical response would figure to be a bit of ball control when you can't stop Megatron. The quality of their pass defense surprised me. But then GB can do that to you.
  • 3-4-DET 20 (7:31) (Shotgun) 10-M.Flynn pass short middle to 88-J.Finley to DET 7 for 13 yards (42-A.Spievey). Best throw of his game so far. Very good anticipation on Finley's route breaking into the most open space, and he's the open guy who's already beyond the sticks. Would fit into tighter windows, too, with the velocity and accuracy. But mostly the decision. This is a good sign in otherwise underwhelming play, these first two drives.
  • 2-7-DET 7 (6:41) 10-M.Flynn pass incomplete short middle to 80-D.Driver. What is anticipation, and what is a poor decision based on too little information? QBs don't have time to weigh the options; they take a good one if it's there.

    This throw demonstrates willingness, but mostly a lot of confidence in his receivers. Above, Flynn is setting, while Donald Driver is breaking.

    The timing is fine; in a vacuum that is the right time to make that throw to that route. Thing is, Alphonso Smith (of Earl Thomas fame) anticipates the throw and gets a jump on the break. He also had a step to the inside that allowed him to react that way at all, or the pass'd have been a TD.

    Not a good decision, and it might be more problematic than you might think: it's evident that Flynn hasn't had reason to base decisions off this kind of information much. Usually the decision making process is: throw to a different awesome & way-open receiver if your first read isn't wearing a defender like Flava Flav's clocklace.
  • GREAT man coverage on all 4 receiving options leads to a FB dumpoff. It happens. Fox comes back with a great end zone view replay, that shows Flynn checking his reads, and purses his lips in disappointment as he checks down to Kuhn. Not really indicative of anything, just interesting to watch. He's disappointed before even turning his keys to Kuhn. Completion, incompletion, whatever, he doesn't figure Kuhn gets in. He knows it's FG time.
  • So far we have some positives mixed in with plenty of unimpressive play, with much of the production coming from the Packer machine vs. poor pass coverage. Case in point: 2nd & 1: quick throw in a power situation. Easy money.
  • 1-10-DET 32 (2:56) (Shotgun) 10-M.Flynn pass short right to 88-J.Finley to DET 24 for 8 yards (52-J.Durant, 27-A.Smith). Interesting use of Finley: pass catching TEs are great, we all know that. Here, though, Finley's split out wide right solo, Flanker & slot to the left. TEs lined up wide is nothing new. Why is this interesting? The personnel kept the Lions in base. Finley on a wide island demands a corner, so LB DeAndre Levy has to move into slot coverage on James Jones late under Flynn's watchful eye. You know where this is headed. Modern offenses like the Saints, Colts & Patriots largely focus on trying to create mismatches like this, and then feast on them. But guess what? Pass goes to Finley. Flynn's barely noticeable, quick glance toward Finley gives him what he wants. Ball snapped, head turns to Jones and then immediately back to Finley for the catch. It's all in the design. But the execution is nice. We'll see this same play once more. I suppose Mike McCarthy is pretty well recognized as an offensive guru, now, and I can stop calling him unrecognized.
  • 2-2-DET 24 (2:21) 25-R.Grant right tackle to DET 20 for 4 yards (98-N.Fairley). This is the benefit effect a great offense enjoys.

    Three defenders 6 to 11 yards back on a 2nd & 2. Just stop & let that sink in for a moment. This is the respect given the potency and aggressiveness of the Packer offense. This exemplifies the kind of offense Flynn is put in, and why it's so very important to the scouting profile. It's not necessarily new or unique: Running a couple deep shots on 2nd & 2 in the ruddy orange zone in a meaningless game is not as aggressive as it might seem on the surface. It's the perfect situation for a deep shot even if only to stretch the defense vertically & enable your power run. But, tell me the last time a Seahawk offense warranted this kind of caution. An awkward but effective run action handoff to RB for the 1st.