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Optimism reigns regarding Seahawks’ outside corners ... for now?

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NFL: SEP 12 Seahawks at Colts Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In my most recent 12 Thoughts article, I tried to look at the Seahawks’ situation at outside corner in a positive / optimistic light. I couldn’t bring myself to be completely optimistic though so I settled with this:

It might not be as bad as we fear.

Optimism 1, Pessimism 0.

Granted, we are only one week into the season and the Indianapolis Colts were playing without their #1 wide receiver (T.Y. Hilton).

The Colts did, however, have their #2 and #3 wideouts (Zach Pascal and Michael Pittman Jr., respectively). Last season, Hilton, Pascal, and Pittman Jr. combined for 140 receptions, 1,894 yards, and 11 touchdowns.

Sorry, I have to take a moment to point out that our top 3 wideouts combined for 78 more receptions, 880 more yards, and 15 more touchdowns than the Colts’ top 3 during the 2020 season. WoW!

On Sunday, sans Hilton, the Colts trio duo had 7 receptions on 9 targets for 55 yards with 2 touchdowns (both by Pascal). However, only one of their wide receivers (Pascal) was among Indy’s top-3 pass-catchers.

Numero Uno was their starting running back, Jonathan Taylor, who had 6 receptions on 7 targets for 60 yards. Their other running back, Nyheim Hines, also had 6 receptions, but on 8 targets, and for only 48 yards.

Why does what their running backs did matter? Because outside cornerbacks don’t often cover running backs.

Overall, Carson Wentz completed 25 passes (on 38 attempts) and only 10 of those 25 were caught by a wide receiver. The running backs had 12 receptions (on 15 targets) and the tight ends had 3 receptions (on 6 targets).

To me, that seems like a win for Seattle’s outside corners.

Again, it’s only one week. And, again, the Colts were without their best receiver. But I might be thinking about upgrading my optimism a little bit.

Or maybe not.


PFF isn’t for everyone, and I tend to use it somewhat lazily. But PFF does provide something of a baseline and they do have a ton of stats (outside of their proprietary - and infinitely debatable - grades), so let’s take a look at what they had to say about Week 1.

First, let’s look at a baseline.

Jamal Adams.

NOT an outside corner. But much-maligned for his coverage skills last season. And, amusingly, not targeted a single time on Sunday (per PFF).

  • 44 coverage snaps
  • The aforementioned 0 targets
  • Coverage grade = 65.4

Note: PFF says that Adams only rushed the quarterback 4 times. His other 28 snaps were chalked up as run-defense.

Here are the coverage snaps for our outside corners:

  • D.J. Reed: 48
  • Tre Flowers: 48

It seems reasonable to assume that 65.4 is the “break-even” point on the (infinitely debatable) PFF grading scale. Right?

Note: If you ever want to see exactly how subjective PFF’s grading system is (in general, but specifically for pass coverage), check out this article: https://www.pff.com/news/pro-how-pff-grades-coverage.

So how did our outside corners do, grade-wise?

  • D.J. Reed: 53.9
  • Tre Flowers: 60.6

Hmmm.

For some perspective ...

Per PFF’s own grading scale, they’re saying that Tre Flowers grades out as a Backup and D.J. Reed is “Replaceable”. At least in Week 1 ... in coverage.

And, in complete transparency, overall as well since Flowers’ overall grade after Week 1 is 63.1 and Reed’s is 57.1

Does anyone else find that questionable? Anyone? Anyone?

Surely the actual stats will expose the utter ridiculousness of PFF’s Week 1 grades.

I mean, we already know that the outside corners (Reed and Flowers) essentially shut down the Colts’ receivers (except for the 2 Pascal touchdowns) with only 14 of 38 targets going to their 4 wideouts.

The stats will back up that impression, right?

Maybe not.

  • D.J. Reed: 5 receptions allowed on 6 targets (83.3%) for 50 yards (10.0 average) with 26 yards after the catch, long of 19, no TDs, no INTs, quarterback rating against of 101.4
  • Tre Flowers: 3 receptions allowed on 3 targets (100%) for 28 yards (9.3 average) with 0 yards after the catch (!), long of 11, 1 TD, no INTs, quarterback rating against of 145.1

Ouch!

And yet ... The eye test tells me that our outside corners did their jobs and did them fairly well in Week 1. Seriously, even the touchdown that Flowers allowed was, dare I say, “acceptable”.

  • Seattle was disguising its coverage (hence Flowers coming up to the line late)
  • The pass rush failed to get home (for only about the 3rd time all game)
  • There was no safety / inside help
  • Flowers didn’t jam the receiver off the line

That last bullet is on Flowers but s—t happens. He did everything else right (as “right” as he could anyway) and, honestly, I think the receiver “wins” in that situation at least 8 out of 10 times at this level - unless the quarterback just completely flubs the read and/or the throw.


To this point, I have focused on the coverage numbers - which makes sense since an outside cornerback’s #1 job is to cover wide receivers.

However, our home opener features the Tennessee Titans and anyone who pays any attention to football knows that the Titans have a tendency of pinning their hopes on Derrick Henry.

And for good reason ...

  • 2019: 303 carries for 1,540 yards (102.7 per game), with 16 touchdowns
  • 2020: 378 carries for 2,027 yards (126.7 per game), with 17 touchdowns

Every single one of those numbers led the league.

On Sunday, against the Cardinals, Henry only had 17 carries (for a mere 58 yards). As a team, the Titans only ran the ball 22 times. They threw the ball 36 times. Yes, there were reasons for that, but a 40/60 run/pass ratio is not what the Titans want to do, plan to do, or are likely to do very often.

Anyone here think that Mike Vrabel and company are going to try to get their running game (and their All-World RB) back on track when they take the field Sunday at Lumen Field?

Yeah ... me too!

Which brings us to the question of how our outside corners did on run-defense against the Colts?

  • D.J. Reed: 28 snaps, 71.9 PFF grade
  • Tre Flowers: 28 snaps, 70.3 PFF grade

Per PFF’s grading scale, both graded out as “starter” caliber players ... against the run ... in Week 1.

Which brings up a really interesting point and perhaps sheds some light on why the Ahkello Witherspoon signing didn’t work out.

Here are the run-defense grades for Reed, Flowers, and Witherspoon over their careers, prior to this season (2018-2020 for Reed and Flowers, 2017-2020 for Witherspoon):

  • Reed: 80.3, 45.1*, 89.7
  • Flowers: 90.6, 53.4, 81.8
  • ‘Spoon: 75.0, 66.4, 56.3, 68.4

Excluding Year 2, when he only had 37 run-defense snaps, D.J. Reed grades out as a Pro Bowl player against the run.

Flowers had a poor Year 2, but graded out as a Pro Bowl player against the run in 2020 and had an “Elite” grade his rookie season.

Witherspoon appears to have hit his ceiling his rookie season and hasn’t come close to being a Pro Bowl-level run-defender in any of the 3 seasons since then, let alone an “Elite” one.

At least that’s what PFF tell us - and methinks the Seattle coaches agree.


What does all this mean?

Nothing really.

Not unless the outside corners back up their Week 1 performance and deliver another outing on Sunday that, at the very least, passes the eye test.

Then it will matter. To me anyway. And mostly because I kind of like being optimistic about the position group that most folks view as the Seahawks’ biggest weakness.

I mean, stats are great and a good PFF grade would be a bonus, but if I don’t throw any sock balls or baby pillows at the TV because of something our cornerbacks do ... that’s what currently matters most to me this week.

Well, that and getting the W that makes us 2-0 heading to Minnesota.

It’s worth noting, of course, that D.J. Reed and Tre Flowers will have a substantially harder wide receiver matchup in Week 2 since the opposition is upgrading from Michael Pittman Jr. and Zach Pascal to A.J. Brown and Julio Jones.

I have faith though. Well, maybe not faith, per se, but optimism.

After all, the Cardinals held Brown and Jones to a combined 7 of 14 for 78 yards with 1 TD. Surely we can match that. Right?

Go Hawks!