Brandon Flowers: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

Being lost in a crowd is nothing new for this star player. Image courtesy of NYTimes.com

After analysing the abilities of Darrelle Revis, Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman, the natural next step would be to find the next superstar cornerback to continue the revealing. The Cleveland Browns’ Joe Haden, Houston Texans’ Jonathan Joseph or Chicago Bears’ Charles Tillman would all be obvious options. Be it good or bad, sometimes it’s both, much of my analysis can be considered unnatural. For that reason, instead of moving onto a big-name cornerback, I decided to take a cornerback with a good reputation who played for the worst team in the league last year.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ Brandon Flowers.

Flowers and Brandon Carr were highly thought of as a combination entering the off-season of 2012. However, Carr left for the Dallas Cowboys in free agency before Flowers endured individual issues on a team that faltered more than any other during the 2012 regular season.

Even though he is a relatively young player, he just turned 27, and has been playing at a very high level for the past five years as a starter for the Chiefs, Flowers has never even made a Pro Bowl, not least get selected as an All-Pro in the supposedly weaker conference for cornerbacks during that time. The Chiefs signed Flowers instead of Brandon Carr, yet Carr was the one who garnished some bit of a reputation after signing a big deal in free agency and moving to the big market Dallas Cowboys. Carr is a very good player, but Flowers can claim that he is better.

Still, when many hear the name they will think lead singer instead of star corner.

Maybe they should, but maybe they shouldn’t… 

Explaining the Process

Qualifying Plays:
Plays that count:

  • Every snap that has the cornerback in man coverage no matter where the ball is thrown.
  • The above includes sacks, quarterback scrambles and plays where the defensive back has safety help.

Plays that don’t count:

  • Screen plays. Even if the receiver isn’t part of the screen, these plays do not count.
  • Plays where either the receiver or cornerback doesn’t follow through his whole assignment.
  • Zone plays. Any ambiguity in this area will disqualify a play.
  • Any prevent coverage situations.
  • Receptions in the flat without a route run.
  • Running plays(duh!). Including designed quarterback runs.

Failed Coverages:

The ball does not have to be thrown in the defensive back’s direction for the coverage to fail. This is NOT an alysis of how many completions the cornerback allowed, that can be found elsewhere, this is an analysis of how good his coverage is on any given play.

Failed coverages can come at any point of the route, but it is subjective to where the players are on the field in relation to the quarterback. Typically, defensive backs must be within arms reach for underneath/intermediate routes. On deeper passes, there is greater leeway given to the defender.

Failed coverages can be subjective. They must be determined by the situation considering the length of the play and other such variables.

Shut Down:

This category is reserved for those plays when receivers would have to make superhuman catches to beat the coverage. The best example of this is when receivers line up wide and try to run down the sideline, but the defensive back gradually guides them towards the sideline, suffocating the space they have to catch the football in. If a receiver is on the white sideline, he is shut down.

In Position:

This is the opposite of a failed coverage. In order to be ‘In Position’, a defensive back has to be in a position to prevent a relatively well-thrown pass to his assignment.

 

Individual Matchups

No.

Player

Successful Snaps/Coverage Snaps

Percentage

1 Devery Henderson 4/10 40%
2 Greg Little 2/5 40%
3 Rod Streater 2/5 40%
4 AJ Green 4/11 36%
5 Stevie Johnson 2/6 33%
6 Mike Williams 3/10 30%
7 Donnie Avery 3/12 25%
8 Jacob Tamme 1/4 25%
9 Josh Gordon 2/9 22%
10 Eric Decker 3/16 19%
11 Denarius Moore 1/6 16%
12 Reggie Wayne 1/6 16%
13 Demaryius Thomas 4/27 15%
14 Mike Wallace 1/8 12.5%
15 Torrey Smith 1/8 12.5%
16 Malcolm Floyd 2/15 13%
17 Marques Colston 1/9 11%
18 Darrius Heyward-Bey 1/11 9%
19 Lance Moore 0/4 0%
20 Robert Meachem 0//6 0%
21 Jacoby Jones 0/8 0%
  Totals 38 / 196  
  Averages 1.08 / 9.33 19.76%

*Those with less than four snaps against Flowers were not included.

Weekly Breakdown

Week 1: Injured

Week 2: Buffalo Bills
Total qualifying plays: 9
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 4

Flowers got very few opportunities to show off his talent. The Bills were running out the clock in the second half and the quick passing game, which featured many screens, also took away more potential snaps in man coverage.

Week 3: New Orleans Saints
Total qualifying plays: 24
Failed coverages: 5
Shutdowns: 8
In Position: 11

Flowers was beaten early by Devery Henderson. Henderson is a deep threat and showed off his speed by getting away from Flowers down the seam for a 36 yard gain. Speed wasn’t the problem however, as Henderson ran an excellent route by drifting towards Flowers’ outside shoulder before accelerating past his inside shoulder. The spin Flowers was forced into for less than a moment allowed Henderson to get down the field. Flowers was instantly in a recovery position to prevent a touchdown, catching him from behind.

Henderson beat him twice underneath during the game, before doing a similar move on their very last snap against each other. Marques Colston also was able to bounce off of his aggressive coverage at one point to get down the field, but again Flowers recovered quickly.

Flowers was beaten by Lance Moore for a touchdown, but he failed to adjust in zone coverage so that play wasn’t included in the above numbers.

Week 4: San Diego Chargers
Total qualifying plays: 19
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 6
In Position: 13

Flowers saw Robert Meachem, Malcolm Floyd, Richard Goodman and Eddie Royal a combined 19 times, but his two failed coverages came on a quick out against off-coverage and when he slipped. Flowers was near-perfect in this game and topped it off with an outstanding interception.

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 21.02.09

Flowers is lined up at the top of the screen on an island with Robert Meachem. The deep safety is closer to the far hashmark than the one to Flowers’ side of the field.

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 21.02.22

 

Despite playing with no help against a slightly bigger receiver, Flowers immediately looks to initiate contact after the snap and gets into Meachem’s chest. Meachem is running a deep comeback route, something that Flowers doesn’t know at this stage, so he is playing this aggressive coverage despite still having to account for the space behind him. Despite his slight frame, Flowers easily wins the battle against Meachem as he sticks to him as he moves down the field.

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 21.04.13

Philip Rivers throws an inaccurate pass Meachem’s way, and because Flowers was tight to his receiver, kept his balance and saw the pass quicker than Meachem, he was able to beat him to the football with ease. Flowers snatched the ball at its highest possible point and the receiver never had a chance to catch the ball.

The most impressive thing about this play is not the interception, it’s the fact that Flowers would have been in position to defend an accurately thrown pass from Rivers too. It likely wouldn’t have resulted in a turnover, but it wasn’t going to be an easy reception for the receiver either.

Week 5: Baltimore Ravens
Total qualifying plays: 23
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 7
In Position: 13

Flowers faced off against Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith more often in this game than he did Anquan Boldin, but he made his most notable plays against Boldin.

Against the Chargers he showed that he could fight physically with a receiver who was slightly bigger than him, but still somewhat close to his size and physique. Against the Ravens, he would face a much greater test of his physical strength against Anquan Boldin.

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 21.24.33
Flowers takes away outside position from the snap, understanding that he had safety help coming across inside. This forces Boldin inside, who continues his route until he meets the safety. Flowers isn’t playing physical coverage at this point, but he is right by Boldin’s shoulder. When Boldin gets to the safety, he quickly turns to go back outside. Flowers mirrors him and even though he turns his head away from the receiver, he does it so quickly that he is still in a very good position as Boldin is coming out of his break.

At this point, Flacco has moved out of the pocket, designed rolling pocket to the right, so Flowers pushes even closer to Boldin and is on his back moving towards the pylon. Boldin is able to hold off Flowers’ physical coverage, keeping his position giving Flacco an easy completion, but Flowers sticks to the coverage and is tight enough to Boldin to knock the ball away as it comes in to his outstretched arm.

Boldin proved in the playoffs last year that he could dominate less physical corners, even though Flowers is slight of build. He is very strong and resilient when fighting for position.

Week 6: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 11

It may seem stupid to pick on a player for only lining up in one part of the field, but the importance of that for a defensive back isn’t something that should be overlooked. Against the Buccaneers, the Chiefs would have loved to put their best cover corner, Flowers, on Tampa Bay’s best receiver, Vincent Jackson. Jackson and Flowers faced off only once, because the Buccaneers knew where he would line up. Instead of Jackson, he saw an awful lot of Mike Williams with some Tiquan Underwood and Arrelious Benn.

Throughout the three cornerback evaluations I’ve done so far, one route that has typically caused problems for receivers is the quick-in/slant route when combined with a decisive step outside at the line of scrimmage. Stevie Johnson has terrorised many a defensive back with this move. Flowers didn’t really get the full Stevie Johnson test, but he did show off his quickness and footwork on one particular play against the Buccaneers.

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 21.41.26

Flowers is lined up over Mike Williams before the snap. There is a safety immediately inside of him, but he is in man coverage against the slot receiver. Flowers has no help on the play.

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 21.43.15

Often, when receivers get to the stage where Williams is at in the first section of the above image, cornerbacks will react by spinning around so they lose sight of the receiver or by taking multiple steps to shift their weight back inside. Flowers’ combination of balance and footwork allows him to make this move in one step. Instead of turning his whole body, he twists his planted foot, contorts his hips and is immediately in position to make a play on any pass or run with the receiver infield.

This agility and balance is a staple of how he covers receivers. He doesn’t overcommit to anything and forces the quarterback to make a very accurate throw or the receiver to make an athletic reception more often than not.

Week 8: Oakland Raiders
Total qualifying plays: 14
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 10

Flowers was beaten once by Denarius Moore on a slant, a slant that Moore proceeded to drop. Flowers spent time on Darrius Heyward-Bey, Moore and Rod Streeter during the game.

Week 9: San Diego Chargers
Total qualifying plays: 8
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 7

In his second game against the Chargers, Flowers had it even easier. He was knocked to the ground by a teammate on the only play a receiver escaped him.

Week 10: Pittsburgh Steelers
Total qualifying plays: 16
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 12

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 02.53.50

Flowers saw an awful lot of Mike Wallace during this game and stood up very well against the athletically gifted receiver. Wallace did beat him for a touchdown, but it was almost impossible to fault the coverage of Flowers as Roethlisberger threw a perfect pass that the receiver caught with one hand extended away from his body.

Week 11: Cincinnati Bengals

Total qualifying plays: 20
Failed coverages: 8
Shutdowns: 4
In Position: 4

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 22.09.56

Against the Bengals, Flowers gave up another touchdown. This time to Mohamed Sanu and this time you could fault him. It was one of the rare occasions when Flowers wandered away from the outside cornerback position and followed a receiver into the slot.

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 22.10.39

Importantly, Sanu beat Flowers with the very same move that he had handled so well against Mike Williams. Either Flowers wasn’t comfortable in the slot, further infield away from the sideline means that being an inside receiver can be a lot more difficult than an outside receiver, or he was expecting help from the linebacker spying the quarterback inside. The way the play developed suggested that Flowers simply wasn’t comfortable.

It could just be a bad play, an inconsistency issue, but Flowers is very consistent from snap-to-snap.

SBNation’s Joe Goodberry broke down this play from the Bengals’ point of view.

Week 12: Denver Broncos
Total qualifying plays: 27
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 25

This may have been Flowers best game of the season. He gave up his first coverage in the fourth quarter, after 21 snaps in man coverage prior to then. The only failed coverage he had was a deep out to Eric Decker that came from the inside slot position of a formation with three receivers to one side. Demaryius Thomas went 0/17 against him in this game while Decker only got that one successful play out of 10 attempts.

Week 13: Carolina Panthers
Total qualifying plays: 4
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 3

Flowers left the game injured early in the second quarter on a screen pass to Joe Adams.

Week 14: Cleveland Browns
Total qualifying plays: 17
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 5
In Position: 10

The Browns’ inexperienced receiving corps couldn’t do much against Flowers. Josh Gordon beat him on a deep post move after losing him at the line of scrimmage, before using a double move to create separation down the right sideline. The most notable plays were two against Greg Little that came on consecutive snaps for the two against each other. Flowers twice read where Little was going as he entered his break and completely took him out of the play.

Week 15: Oakland Raiders
Total qualifying plays: 10
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 6

Rod Streater caused him some problems underneath, but this was another easy day for Flowers against below-par receivers.

Week 16: Indianapolis Colts
Total qualifying plays: 25
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 5
In Position: 16

It started off as a rough day for Flowers, giving up coverages on his first three attempts in man coverage, but he limited all plays to underneath routes and only lost Donnie Avery because of traffic later in the game.

Week 17: Denver Broncos
Total qualifying plays: 22
Failed coverages: 7
Shutdowns: 5
In Position: 10

The Broncos’ receivers, and in particular Demaryius Thomas, got more success in their second outing against Flowers, but nobody could create the opportunity for a big play.

 2012 NFL Season Total:
Total qualifying plays: 253
Failed coverages: 45
Shutdowns: 53
In Position: 155
Flowers’ success rate for the season: 82.2%

In Comparison to Patrick Peterson:
Total qualifying plays: 313
Failed coverages: 116
Shutdowns: 48
In Position: 149
Peterson’s success rate for the season: 62.9%

Peterson is a better athlete than Flowers, but he doesn’t have his level of intelligence or technique. Peterson also followed receivers all over the field, whereas Flowers primarily played on the left side of the defense.

In Comparison to Richard Sherman:
Total qualifying plays: 380
Failed coverages: 70
Shutdowns: 86
In Position: 224
Sherman’s success rate for the season: 81%

Sherman and Flowers play similar roles on their respective defenses. Neither player leaves the left side of the field too often, but Sherman showed more ability to track receivers into the slot and did move across the hash-marks when Brandon Browner was suspended. Sherman is a much more physical receiver and is better in zone coverage, but Flowers isn’t far behind him in those areas.

In Comparison to Darrelle Revis:
Total qualifying plays: 332
Failed coverages: 130
Shutdowns: 46
In Position: 156
Revis’ success rate for the season: 60.2%

These numbers are from the 2011 season and they may seem to dispel the notion that Revis is a shutdown cornerback. However, considering that Revis tracked opposing receivers all over the field, repeatedly matched up against much better receivers than the other cornerbacks listed above and played with essentially no safety help or pass rush on most plays, the numbers don’t do him justice.

Revis and Flowers are very similar in style. Both are perfect technicians with outstanding feet who are fast enough to run with the fastest receivers and tough enough not to be bullied by the biggest. Neither jump off the page like Peterson because of their physical gifts, but both are more agile than the youngster. Neither have the bravado of Sherman, but both can land big hits on opponents when need be.

Other Aspects of his Play:

Because he’s not 6’1+, a celebrated returner of any kind or an inside cornerback, Flowers’ athleticism is somewhat understated. His agility is outstanding and his strength is palpable, but his sheer speed is another aspect of his game that should be celebrated more.

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 22.41.16

Against the Ravens, Flowers intercepted Flacco when lined up over Anquan Boldin. Flowers was in press coverage and Boldin ran a comeback route. At the top of the route, Boldin knocked flowers back two or three yards so he was in perfect position to make the reception from a good Flacco pass. Flacco didn’t zip the ball to Boldin, but it didn’t exactly float through the air either. Boldin worked back to the ball, but…

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 22.42.11

Flowers planted his foot in the ground and accelerated ahead of Boldin to make a leaping interception. He didn’t need to turn, so his agility wasn’t as important as much as his ability to accelerate and get to top speed in a split second.

That acceleration was less important on this next play, but played a part in helping Flowers run with the fastest receiver in the NFL.

There isn’t a cornerback in the league who can run with Mike Wallace. Even celebrated speedsters such as Antonio Cromartie, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Patrick Peterson and Brandon Browner have to give him some form of cushion.

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 22.53.07

Before the snap, the Steelers motioned Heath Miller across the formation. This brought Kendrick Lewis down from his deep free safety position and pushed Brandon Flowers out of press coverage at the top of the screen. Leftwich has the ball in this image and it was taken just after the snap to show where Flowers was and how he was moving in comparison to Wallace.

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 22.53.25

Despite running with his shoulders parallel to the sidelines for much of the distance, Flowers is still ahead of Wallace roughly 37 yards down the field. Wallace has gained on him, but Flowers also hasn’t completely sold out to sprint alongside him yet either. It’s at this point that he turns his shoulders and starts sprinting alongside Wallace.

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 22.53.40

He stays level with Wallace for another 13 or so yards at which point the ball has overshot the receiver. Even if the ball had landed in Wallace’s hands at this point, Flowers would still have had a chance to knock it loose.

This kind of speed is invaluable in today’s league that is looking to speed up and manipulate matchups all over the field.

Brandon Flowers has his limitations, but a very strong case can be made for him as an elite cornerback. He may not do everything that Darrelle Revis does, but what he does he does to a level that is unfathomable for most who play his position. A combination of who he plays for and his style of play has hurt his reputation, but anyone writing a list of the best cornerbacks in the NFL would be foolish to overlook the talents of the 27-year-old.

It’s easy to get lost in youngsters such as Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden, but there are 53 players on each NFL roster during the regular season. The reality is that a large number of talented players are being overlooked on a consistent basis. Is it not just as valuable to unearth superstars from supposedly good players and good players supposedly bad ones, instead of just searching out the stars who already attract all of the headlines?

Brandon Flowers doesn’t attract headlines, but he is a very attractive football player.

You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf