Brandon Flowers has yet to show up for any of the Chiefs organized team activities, leading to rumors Flowers days in Kansas City could be numbered. The former 35th overall draft choice by the Chiefs had what was perceived by fans as his worst season of his career but still earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Flowers value to the team may not be what it once was but it does not mean he doesn’t still have a valuable role to play in Kansas City’s new aggressive defense. Cutting a player of Flowers’ level would be a mistake for the Chiefs if they want to continue to build off of the momentum they created in John Dorsey and Andy Reid‘s first season.
There are three things to note about Flowers’ 2013 performance than him being asked to play man-coverage exclusively.
For the last four years Flowers has played almost exclusively on the left side against an outside receiver. Pro Football Focus’ data says Flowers has just one start from 2009-2012 that wasn’t at left cornerback and that was a 2009 game against Washington. During that time Flowers perfected his role and wasn’t asked to do too much beyond his little corner – no pun intended – of the field.
Sutton, wisely, is a guy who would rather play match-ups. The result was Flowers learning two new positions – right corner and slot. Like Eric Fisher found flipping from the right side to the left side, Flowers found the adjustment to moving around the field to be a little more complicated than just going to a different spot. Add in that Flowers was being to play man-to-man coverage almost exclusively for the first time in his professional career and it would make sense for Flowers to struggle in certain situations.
Personnel also played a big factor in Flowers’ play. Flowers should be starting in the slot in Sutton’s system but there was nobody to replace him on the outside.
It shouldn’t be stunning to learn at this point that the Chiefs love big cornerbacks on the outside to combat the big wide receivers that are starting to occupy those outside wide receiver positions. What is notable about slot receivers is most of them are not the towering 6-3 types who you’ll find on the outside.
Wes Welker (5-9), Percy Harvin (5-11), Randall Cobb (5-10), Dexter McCluster (5-7), and Danny Amendola (5-11) are all considered to be among the better slot receivers in football and all of them are under six-feet tall. Flowers matches up well against all of these receivers in terms of physical abilities, so it would make sense to move him to the slot.
The problem was the Chiefs did not have anyone to play on the outside. Sean Smith occupied one outside corner spot but there wasn’t anyone to replace Flowers. Marcus Cooper was very good for half a season and it allowed the Chiefs to bump Flowers inside for a while, but Cooper hit a wall in the final month of the season.
One final thing is Flowers was much better last season than you would think. A quick glance at Flowers’ overall PFF grade and you’ll see he tallied a -4.2 overall grade (including the playoffs). Terrible, right? This is below average play by PFF’s system and when you match it with what Flowers is making it makes Flowers one of the biggest under-performers on the team.
The problem is that grade is skewed heavily by three games – the home games against Dallas, San Diego, and Denver. What do all of those games have in common? Flowers was matchup in man-coverage situations against Dez Bryant (6-3), Keenan Allen (6-2), and Eric Decker (6-3). Man-coverage plus receivers who almost have a half-a-foot of size on Flowers is not going to equal good things no matter how you dice it.
Take those three games out and Flowers has a +5.1 overall grade. While I understand you cannot just take out the bad games because the bad games did indeed happen, if the Chiefs were playing with an ideal roster Flowers would never have seen a snap on the outside against Bryant, Allen, or Decker. Eliminate those three games and the Chiefs and Flowers leaps from being the 87th ranked cornerback by PFF to being in the top 30.
All of this should viewed through the prism that Flowers was playing injured through most of the season.