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Matt Flynn, Greg Cosell, Pete Carroll and Bill Walsh: The Seahawks' Quarterback Situation Just Got More Interesting

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To start off, some of you may wonder why we at Field Gulls hold NFL Films executive Greg Cosell in such high regard and I think the answer is several-fold. For me, my reverence for Cosell was inherited from Thomas Beekers' descriptions and general respect for him as an analyst. As Beeks put it - "He's been with NFL films for three decades and is still there. He still sounds like the same guy: not making bold statements, not talking about stuff he doesn't know about, only offering very insightful analysis of guys he's watched enough film on." It's spot on, and it's a great standard for any NFL analyst or writer to aspire for. Not only is Cosell a great football mind, he's a great writer - succinct, unbiased, and very good at articulating his points and teaching his readers about the game.

He's also highly respected by NFL front office personnel and coaches, and they often seek him out for his perspective on players. From an interesting article on Cosell at the New York Times' Fifth Down Blog: "Greg is just a brilliant man when it comes to" the strategic and personnel facets of the league, Raiders [former] offensive coordinator Al Saunders said. "Tremendous insight, a tremendous knowledge of personnel, a great command of the intricacies of the game from a strategic standpoint."

"For a guy who isn't a coach, isn't a general manager, and was never a player," the senior writer Vic Carucci said, "the depth of his knowledge and his ability to explain it is as strong as anything I've come across. And I like to think I've been around some of the brightest football people in the modern era."

So, though many of you were already aware of this, I hold Cosell's opinion in high regard and I certainly try to develop my analysis and writing on football after his approach. No bold statements. No talking about things I don't know about. Only offering, hopefully, insightful analysis on guys I've watched enough film on or subjects I feel I know enough about to offer a discerning opinion on.

And I'll be honest - I haven't watched the film on Matt Flynn close enough to feel totally comfortable commenting with any sort of in-depth analysis. What I would offer is mostly my impression, largely gathered second-hand from the stuff I read by writers I respect - Greg Cosell, Russ Lande, Doug Farrar, and right here at Field Gulls, Thomas Beekers and Jacob Stevens. Thomas and Jacob have done the Flynn scouting job exceedingly well for this site - Thomas' four-part series on Matt Flynn can be found here (Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV) and Jacob's two-parter can be found here (Part I, Part II).

And - before you read on, I highly suggest you revisit this post I wrote about Cosell and his succinct version of what makes a quarterback elite. It's important because though arm strength is sometimes regarded as one of the top things you look for in a franchise guy - something that Matt Flynn is not known for - in Cosell's mind, arm strength is ancillary to the most important attributes --

As Cosell aptly says: "The critical attributes essential to play the quarterback position at a championship level [are] -- quick progression reading, decision making, the willingness to make stick throws into tight windows, and accuracy."

"All these traits are visible and discernible on film. They are some of the subtleties of quarterback play, the nuances demanded at the NFL level. It's a highly disciplined craft. Critical moments in big games are not defined by random and arbitrary play. It's tangible and quantifiable skills that most often produce the memorable plays."

What follows are snippets of Greg Cosell's scouting report on Matt Flynn on his NFL Films blog and my transcribed quotes from a podcast he did with the Finsiders in anticipation that Flynn would sign in Miami. I've peppered in quotes and excerpts from both. Cosell starts:

I've been really lucky in my years here [at NFL Films] that I got to know Bill Walsh pretty well, and probably spent seven or eight occasions with him just talking quarterbacks; well, he did the talking, and I did the listening, and I think that most - a large majority of quarterbacks need to be manipulated by scheme, by playcalling.

You know, everybody would like one, but there aren't a lot of Aaron Rodgers out there. There aren't many guys that are power throwers with great arms, velocity and accuracy. So, almost all quarterbacks need to be manipulated.

An interesting start to Cosell's analysis in that Pete Carroll's number one influence in coaching was probably Bill Walsh and Carroll's number one priority in building an offense is to take the onus of winning off of his quarterback. In Win Forever, Carroll wrote about his time with the 49ers, in which he'd head into Head Coach Walsh's office to soak up some knowledge from the great:

Said Carroll: "We talked a lot about the quarterback position. Coach Walsh was one of the great quarterback gurus in the history of the game, and he convinced me that everything a coach does in designing his offense should be about making it easy for his quarterback, because his job is so difficult. He believed that everything should be be structured with the quarterback in mind."

Bill Walsh described to Carroll his ideal quarterback: "All I'm looking for is a guy who can throw a catchable ball."

Continued Carroll: "I still think about Coach Walsh's "catchable ball" today when I evaluate potential quarterbacks during recruiting, draft preparation, or free agency and I have never forgotten the importance of building an offense that is focused on protecting the quarterback, first and foremost."

So, I think it's an understatement to say that Pete Carroll understands this tenet and buys into Cosell's opinion on the position.

Continuing with Flynn - Cosell talked about the Packers' backup QB on the Phinsider podcast:

[I watched] two starts; against New England last year and the final game of the year this year when they came back and beat Detroit. I would say he's a timing and rhythm passer; the one thing that did stick out to me was that he was decisive in his reads and throws, and that's a really great system.

So, when he hit his back foot, the large majority of the time the ball could come out with someone to throw it to. And, I would say that he was very accurate on those short-to-intermediate throws, which are really the defining throws of that offense.

Similarly, he wrote at the NFLFilms Blog -

"Flynn, at 6-foot-2, does not possess prototypical size. He has above-average arm strength, nothing more. There are power throws he will struggle to make, like deep digs at 18-22 yards, or deep comebacks. In fact, these are not throws you would ask Flynn to make. The bottom line: Flynn is not a top-level passer."

"His attributes, based on film breakdown of his two NFL starts, derive from his talent as a timing and rhythm passer who's decisive with his reads and throws, and has shown good accuracy in the short to intermediate areas. He's primarily a plant-and-throw quarterback who makes good decisions, and delivers the ball on time. One thing I liked was his pocket movement. He showed the ability to slide and maintain his downfield focus. That's a far more important trait than running out of the pocket."

The first thing that comes to my mind is that the quarterback that Cosell is describing above is essentially the opposite of Tarvaris Jackson, or close to it. This should make for an interesting quarterback competition as Flynn's major weapons are his decisiveness, timing, accuracy, and excellent pocket movement and awareness.

This is opposed to Tarvaris Jackson, whose main weapons appear to be his toughness, arm strength, mobility, and to an extent, ball control. He was not known for timing with receivers, nor for pocket awareness. Not known for quick decisions, nor overall accuracy. He was adequate in all those categories - as most Seahawks fans would attest, he was probably better than expected, but the quarterback that Cosell describes when talking about Matt Flynn has a totally different set of skills.

Cosell continues...

Flynn, I believe, can be a successful NFL starter, but - and here's where the [Bill] Walsh archetype comes into play - he must be carefully manipulated by the schematics of the passing game, and helped by the play-calling. He's not Aaron Rodgers simply because he put up better numbers in a late-season start. Rodgers is an exception, a supremely talented passer with rare traits. Few quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown with Rodgers' combination of velocity and accuracy.

Flynn is a member of a much larger quarterback fraternity, players who need to be coached and managed to maximize the skills they possess. They must be defined and enhanced by the methodology and the concepts of the passing game. That's the way it works in the NFL for 80-90 percent of its quarterbacks.

Understandable and logical. The Seahawks know this and Carroll lives by the "Walsh archetype", and will undoubtedly adapt the offense to Flynn's strengths should he win the starting job (which I expect he will). Last year, the Seahawks did so with Tarvaris Jackson, - looking to establish the run, doggedly, then work off play-action and boot-action to utilize Jackson's arm strength in the vertical game. Jackson's mobility and ability to throw the ball downfield with zip were determining factors in the gameplan.


That's why it would make good sense for Flynn to join his former offensive coordinator in Miami. Philbin understands from personal experience Flynn's strengths and limitations. If he gets the chance, he will take a page from the Bill Walsh book, and cast Flynn in his rightful role: an efficient passer in a multi-dimensional passing game in which the scheme rules, not the quarterback.

Obviously, this was written prior to Flynn signing in Seattle and Cosell did note on his twitter account that he was very surprised that he chose the Seahawks over the Dolphins. Really though, his point stands. The Seahawks have a multi-dimensional passing game - and the scheme rules. It's a run-heavy offense predicated by surgical strikes downfield and balanced with bootlegs and intermediate passing off of that. I know this really can describe any offense in the NFL, but if there's one thing that's sure in Pete Carroll's vision for an offense, it's that "the scheme rules, not the quarterback."


[The offense] ALWAYS has to be tailored [around the quarterback]. Now, maybe I've been hanging out too much with Ron Jaworski, we've worked together for the last 22 years, and are very close friends, and he had a big arm as a quarterback so maybe he's sort of engrained that in me, but I always think that quarterbacks that don't have good arms, and you don't have to have an absolute cannon, but I think if there are throws you can't make, there are times, depending on the game, and it doesn't happen every week, but there are times when it can be a problem.

Now, again, not every quarterback in the league has a big arm, and there are some very good quarterbacks, so if you can manage that enough, with your offense, with the rest of your team, - there are a lot of things that go into being a quarterback besides just the play of the quarterback. So, it goes to how well you can manage that and fit the rest of your team around that.

Carroll said on a conference call Monday how much respect he has for the Packers and how they develop QBs and that the key is making the QB a part of the offense, not the whole. That's likely a big reason Flynn was inclined to come to Seattle - the offense fits his skill set, there are weapons around him, and he won't be asked to carry the team. He'll just an important cog, as Cosell points out should be necessary. Carroll also raved about Flynn's ability to break down defenses and dissect the situations they presented him. Flynn 'wowed' Schneider and Carroll in that regard.

Cosell would agree, and he starts by framing what he means:

"Lets not try to discount the mental part of the game in the NFL. Quarterbacks can make up for some deficiencies with arm strength by winning before the snap. It's what the game has become - the pre-snap phase. I remember having a wonderful conversation with Josh McDaniels last summer when he was still with the St. Louis Rams, and he told me with Tom Brady, when he was the coordinator in New England, that the magic happened before the ball was snapped.

And, I think if the magic can happen before the ball is snapped, then you can camouflage and compensate for perceived arm deficiencies, because the ball comes out quick, you know where to go. You beat the defense before the ball's even snapped."

Cosell then described the positives in what he saw from Flynn, based on gametape:

He made good decisions, I thought he read the blitz pretty well, a number of times. He actually threw a touchdown to Donald Driver against a cover-0 blitz; he knew exactly where to go with the ball quickly, and he beat the free defender. So, I would say that he's a timing and rhythm passer, good decision maker, but he does not have a big arm. So, there are throws you probably wouldn't ask him to make, and you know what? That's usually called good coaching.

HIs incentive-laden contract, his apparent forthcoming competition for the job, - these things tell me the Seahawks know about Flynn's deficiencies and aren't deceiving themselves in the way they'll need to use him. That said - another thing Carroll noted on the signing of Flynn was the when they worked him out and he threw for them, that "Flynn answered some of their questions" and "lit it up," so I don't think the vertical game becomes obsolete.

In Pete King's MMQB from yesterday, he shared the following anecdote. Asked King: "What's more important for a quarterback -- arm strength or accuracy?''

"Accuracy, no question,'' [Flynn} replied. "You're going to throw it deep maybe two, three, four times a game. You might have 40 throws in a game. Obviously you need the arm to get it downfield, but I've always felt the position is about knowing everything about the defense, about your game plan, about what's going to work when you make checks. I feel like I can throw a very good deep ball. I don't know where it comes from that I can't. The windows are so tight in the NFL that you're not going to survive if you can't make those throws, and I think I've proven I can make them.''

More soon.