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Seahawks on tape: Tre Flowers mastering Pete Carroll’s defensive back technique

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Tre Flowers is a fifth round rookie safety conversion project. That now seems wildly preposterous, given he’s already mastering Carroll’s defensive back technique. Like the 5th round success of Richard Sherman, the cornerback’s length is a massive help. With jamming and ball-playing aided, the scary aspect for offenses is that Flowers is faster than Sherman ever was, running a 4.45 forty-yard dash at the NFL combine.

Way back in August, I highlighted the various Seahawk-y traits Flowers showed in college which would transition nicely to the pros. Yet I doubted his ability to start in his first year at the position:

“the process of becoming a defensive back with starting ability is likely to take longer than one offseason. Carroll finished with “he’s got a long way to go”. Remember how DeShawn Shead took a while to make it onto the team full-time? Flowers would be in a similar position if Seattle’s depth wasn’t noticeably thinner.”

This was a time when Byron Maxwell was cornerback #2. Flowers’ improvements have stunned me. He’s grown throughout the season, showing a short-term memory but also never getting totally beat. Ladies and gentlemen, John Schneider has done it again.

Flowers’ game against the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday was the perfect demonstration of his talents and the remarkable coaching skill of Carroll. The rookie’s ability has seen some teams target Shaquill Griffin more. While the Cardinals lack premier wide receiver talent, they did, at least, attempt to pick on Flowers. Let’s look at his technique within Seattle’s scheme.

Staying in phase

You may remember Arizona’s scored their lone touchdown off play-action after Akeem King bit on Larry Fitzgerald’s fake block.

On his first snap of the game, Flowers somewhat bit on a play-fake too. Maybe it was the shifted Fitzgerald, the #1 receiver, running across the formation as though he were blocking split action. Or perhaps the two tight ends successfully sold they were run blocking at the beginning of their routes. Whatever the reason, Flowers took two steps forward—keen to set a strong secondary EDGE facing the run—despite having deep third responsibility.

Flowers’ athletic ability meant he could recover though. He turned his hips quickly to run downfield with the deep crossing route of tight end Chris Hubert. Flowers then kept in phase with Hubert well. Knowing he had the help of Bradley McDougald over the top of the route, Flowers stayed in the hip pocket of the receiver.

Flowers also took a path that undercut Hubert’s in-break. If Josh Rosen hadn’t led Hubert downfield, almost throwing a pick to McDougald, then Flowers was in position to play the football. As a defense, the Seahawks completely locked the bootleg flood up.

Man against crosser

Seattle’s confidence in their defensive backs versus the poor offense of the Cardinals saw them play lots of man coverage.

Situated in the slot, Flowers aligned over Malachi Dupree with an off alignment and outside shade. The Seahawks’ cover 1 placed Flowers in a one-on-one with Dupree. As Dupree quickly bent his route to the boundary side, Flowers rapidly exited his shuffle and half-turned to open to Dupree’s side.

His cushion distance over Dupree was near enough maintained. It would have been tempting for the corner to fully open and run downfield, but he stayed looking downhill and squarer for a few more steps—ready to break underneath.

After diagnosing that Dupree was continuing downfield, Flowers turned and exploded. He pretty much ran the route for Dupree, blanketing the second-year wideout. Dupree contacted Flowers first, to which Flowers held his space and Rosen’s overthrow fell harmlessly incomplete.

The area for Flowers to take this to the next level is for him to make a play on the ball, but it’s encouraging how much he looks for the pass in coverage.

Speed-turn versus slant

The Dallas Cowboys will run double move routes with Amari Cooper. Be them a hitch-and-go or a slant-and-go, they will try to get cornerbacks to bite. While Shaquill Griffin has been fooling for such trickery this season, Flowers’ overall patience has seen him be wiser.

He was beat on this third down by Pharoh Cooper though, giving up the first down. In straight man-to-man coverage outside, Cooper re-set the line of scrimmage against the press, inside shade alignment by releasing outside as though running a fade.

Flowers’ jam had him with his right leg backwards somewhat, and the corner didn’t stay fully square or move with the jam; he was thinking go route. A degree more patience was needed here. As Cooper got Flowers to somewhat kick back to the fade, the receiver then used his far arm to subtly push Flowers’ in the back and fully turn the corner outside. Breaking inside unopposed, Cooper was open to catch the slant.

Flowers’ cautiousness about being beat deep is far more preferable than the opposite. What Flowers showed after being beat was most impressive. Quickly realizing that Cooper had deceived him, Flowers executed a speed turn that saw him take his eyes away from his man. This is a brave move that requires confidence.

The manoeuvre saw Flowers recover to play Cooper again. Rather than trying to make a play on the ball and missing, Flowers waited for the catch and brought Cooper down just over the first down line.

Off-man miss

We did get an uncharacteristic whiff from Flowers on 3rd and 4. He was in off-man coverage with Fitzgerald. Rosen immediately hit the hitch of Fitzgerald for the first down. Flowers had nice patience, stepping to maintain his position. Despite a few unnecessary added steps that will be eliminated with added experience, Flowers still triggered quickly downhill to make the tackle and stop any yards after catch.

Except Flowers missed Fitzgerald. He went over the top of his man, as though trying to play the ball, and grasped nothing but air. Fortunately, Wagner’s rat-like zone enabled him to atone for Flowers’ excited mistake.

Quarters technique

The Seahawks have run more and more two-high safety looks this season after Earl Thomas’ injury. The “red 2” version of “cover 2” has been a large reason for the defense’s effectiveness in the redzone. But in clear open-field passing situations, the coverages help compensate for the lack of range brought by Thomas’ absence.

Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. opted for a cover 3 cloud that had strong match rules on this 2nd and 5 with just 15 seconds left in the half. For instance, Bobby Wagner matched the running back in his middle hook. The two-high safeties were free to be aggressive and play more like man on the #2 receivers.

The cloud-look still featured three-deep shells, placing Flowers in the field-side quarter of the “quarter, quarter, half”. Flowers disguised his zone technique cunningly pre-snap, aligning in press-alignment as though in press-man. For Rosen, having faced some cover 2 man already, this could have been another version of that pass defense.

Instead, Flowers bailed late into his zone, look-in technique. He remained well over the top of Dupree and was able to observe Rosen’s turn. Flowers could see the ball as soon as it left Rosen’s hand all the way through his coverage, whereas Dupree hadn’t even turned to locate the football.

With this head-start granted by look-in technique, Flowers attempted to intercept the overthrown Rosen pass while maintaining his over the top leverage. He was heavily contacted for about 5 yards by Dupree, which tangled Flowers in hand-fighting that stopped him from playing the ball. Really, this should have been offensive pass interference—something Flowers appeared to claim at the end.

Walling inside man

Like his sound outside leverage on Dupree’s crosser from the slot, Flowers also played with excellent inside leverage to wall the middle of the field. Tasked with covering Fitzgerald one-on-one in a cover 2 man, Flowers looked super comfortable on the 3rd and 13 after Seattle switched into the coverage late.

Flowers adjusted his positioning to maintain his inside leverage on Fitzgerald. He opened to Fitzgerald to wall the receiver from the middle of the field as the receiver closed the cushion. This was great awareness from Flowers of the strength of this coverage (over the top help to the sideline) plus the weakness of this coverage (the middle of the field is left open).

With Flowers in excellent position to run with any deep middle of the field route, he got physical when establishing his space and grabbed Fitzgerald. Some referees may have called a hold on Flowers, but the corner did well to not relinquish separation to Fitzgerald.

Rosen wanted to go to Fitzgerald. But, after seeing the tight coverage of Flowers, the quarterback was forced to progress to a desperate back shoulder throw to the sideline. Flowers removed the passer’s primary read, a future hall of famer no less.

Elite potential

The examples covered had Flowers looking accomplished in a plethora of Carroll’s defensive back techniques. His game was virtually shut-down. In bump-and-run, off-man or off-zone the corner is employing various methods to win his individual matchups. His speed and length gifts him recovery ability. Moreover, he is demonstrating a clear understanding of the coverage concept each time and the role his individual assignment plays in each pass defense.

Development is not linear. Flowers may have a “sophomore slump”. Yet right now, he appears to be hinting at “best corner in franchise history” potential. He’s got the best coach possible to realize that promise. Not bad for a guy who never played outside corner in college. The offseason focus will be adding interceptions to his game; there’ve been several near misses and Flowers does play with consistent ball-hawking intentions. Then he’ll be a complete master of how to play cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks.

For more on Seahawks defensive back technique, check out these editions of Seahawks on tape: