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The Drive: Tre Flowers watches as Tedric Thompson burns

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Tedric Thompson was embarrassed. He went big and failed. He gave living representation to Henry David Thoreau’s assertion that “The mass of men are stupid bunglers!” But from the moment Thompson whiffed I felt a strong need to defend him. It seemed to me that Thompson had failed honestly in an unwise, even vainglorious attempt. While another Seahawk had born equal if not more responsibility for the failure, but had escaped blame. If that is true and why that might be true is the subject of this week’s post.

Let’s look at that drive. ESPN’s win probability model gave Seattle a 77.9% chance of winning from kickoff. In less than a minute of game clock, the Seahawks went from prohibitive favorites to not much better than a pick ‘em.

1ST & 10 AT CIN 25(00:52)

(:52) (Shotgun) A.Dalton pass short right to T.Boyd to CIN 28 for 3 yards (U.Amadi).

Seahawks break in nickel personnel but resemble a base 4-3 formation.

Ugo Amadi is aligned on the right hash mark at the 30. Seattle drops into what looks like quarters coverage. Safe, very safe, and Andy Dalton’s choice of target is a gift to the Seahawks.

With so little time left in the half, and the Seahawks seemingly smothering any potential deep target, even a brief flash of pass rush is enough for Dalton to check down. And that’s exactly what Jadeveon Clowney achieves, splitting a double team, and flashing free but never getting within three yards of Dalton.

It’s a good inside move from a pass rusher who has a reputation for being a bit linear in his approach.

Comparing nearly identical moments from different camera angles reveals how much pass rush can be hidden by foreshortening. In the above, Clowney looks legitimately dangerous. Yet from the all-22 and the broadcast angle, he appears lost in a mishmash of warring bodies.

Ugo reacts before the ball leaves Dalton’s hands.

In an attempt to evade Amadi, Tyler Boyd cedes two yards.

It doesn’t work.

2ND & 7 AT CIN 28(00:28)

(:28) (No Huddle, Shotgun) A.Dalton pass short right to D.Willis to CIN 45 for 17 yards (Sq.Griffin).

The Bengals chip with running back Giovani Bernard and tight end CJ Uzomah. Pass rush barely factors.

Thompson is four yards deeper than the next defender, and Dalton targets Damion Willis running through the hole in zone between Thompson and Shaquill Griffin.

Thompson badly overpursues to his left.

In real time, I perceived this play as the Seahawks more or less conceding yards in exchange for clock. Looking at it now, I see a dangerous seam opening between Seattle’s last line of defense, and an underappreciated tackle by Griffin which surely saved yards.

The reception was worth 2.4% win probability. That’s a lot for a play occurring near the end of the first half. The reception achieved nothing on its own but the field position made the ensuing touchdown pass possible.

1ST & 10 AT CIN 45(00:20)

(:20) (Shotgun) A.Dalton pass incomplete short left to J.Ross III. SEA-U.Amadi was injured during the play.

Minimal pass rush.

This time the end zone camera deceives. From another angle, it is obvious that Quinton Jefferson is fully engaged and not that close.

The coverage is horribly bungled. Just over the beak of the logo you can see the fateful moment Bradley McDougald, attempting to run from a deep zone on the right to cover John Ross running a shallow cross from right to left, collides with Ugo Amadi—injuring him in the process.

But Ross drops a gimme.

2ND & 10 AT CIN 45(00:16)

(:16) (Shotgun) A.Dalton pass deep middle to J.Ross III for 55 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Here we go.

Pass rush? Very little. Bengals do chip with the tight end and back, though.

Seahawks appear to run a cover 2. Which is a bit odd.

Ross has outpaced Tre Flowers, but the clear coverage breakdown belongs to Thompson. He hasn’t anticipated the deep route and is too far near the middle, covering really no one. Dalton winds back to pass.

Working very near his maximum range, I assume, Dalton’s pass breaks inward aiding Thompson who has not only recovered, but managed to plant himself in what looks to be a good position to intercept the pass.

We know how that ends. But let’s look at Flowers.

Above is the moment Ross stops running maximum speed and slows to find the ball. Flowers, who is very straight line fast, is only a little more than two yards behind Ross. He should close but he doesn’t.

Ross has all but stopped. Flowers continues to loom in trail position.

Here we see the apex of Thompson’s ill-timed leap. It is very nearly glorious. It is a massive blunder. But Flowers, again, is hopelessly out of position. A very lucky bounce might find him. And perhaps that is what he was thinking as he watches Thompson: prepare for a deflected pass. The pass is not deflected.

The all-22 footage reveals just how far away Flowers still was. It looks to me like he simply stopped to watch Thompson attempt a pick.

And of course no one is going to catch Ross from behind.

Thompson may very well be benched for his mistake, but what do we make of Flowers’ continued ineffectiveness?

Flowers had ten tackles and nine solo tackles. The average depth of those tackles was 12.7 yards down field. Seven were after a first down was converted. Two more first downs were awarded to Cincinnati through penalties by Flowers. He only had two positive value plays, a tackle of Tyler Boyd after Boyd received for three on first and ten, and a pass intended for Giovani Bernard which Flowers jarred loose.

Giving Flowers half credit for the Rasheem Green sack and forced fumble which Flowers recovered (which is generous in the extreme), he had fourteen plays costing Seattle 11.72 points. If you want to excuse him the pass interference penalty, that drops to 8.85. The Bengals passing offense, in total, was worth 9.46 points.

I do not have time to really see if Flowers deserves all of that discredit, but it would surprise me greatly if he didn’t deserve most of it. Last season Seattle ranked 29th in the NFL defending passes thrown left. The average pass targeting Seattle’s left side was worth just a bit less than the average pass thrown by Russell Wilson in 2018. The season before, with Shaquill Griffin manning the left, Seattle ranked sixth in the NFL. Targeting Seattle’s left in 2017 led to an outcome just a bit worse than the average pass thrown in 2017 by Brian Hoyer. Hoyer was recently gifted nine million dollars by Andrew Luck.

Two big things seem to separate how we perceive Thompson and Flowers. The first affects us emotionally. Thompson not only screwed up but by attempting a pick which was little more valuable than a tackle—the Bengals were out of timeouts and had little hope of running another play before the half—he screwed up in pointless and wholly embarrassing fashion. His mistake is undeniable, and Thompson himself has little reputation to fall back on.

Flowers has been hyped plenty, including by that Cowboy and Creole of NFL football, Pete Carroll. We were not supposed to be questioning his job security. We were supposed to be wondering if Flowers could “make the jump.” Well, the first jump, I would argue, would be a jump to competence. Flowers’ position is designed to be easy. His two predecessors, Byron Maxwell and Brandon Browner, really could not hang elsewhere but thrived in Seattle. Maybe we are seeing the compounding damage done of losing Earl Thomas. But Flowers has done very little individually, he looks consistently slow to react, he has made very few plays on the ball, and Seattle has been among the worst teams in the NFL at defending passes to the left since he took over. A raft of Pete Carroll plaudits, and a fleet of saving tackles deep down the field, is the not the foundation of a great career. It’s time Tre Flowers earns his spot through performance.