In John Pagano's defense, he asks a few things from his cornerbacks. First and foremost, you don't get beat deep. The 4, 5, and 6 yard curls or underneath routes are fine. Secondly, you finish the play. The reason those underneath routes are fine, is that there's an expectation (a very reasonable one) that the corner will finish the play by securing the tackle. There are other situations in this defense where the corner will be asked to be the force player and will need to make the tackle at the line of scrimmage. This goes without saying that on obvious passing downs you're expected to prevent the receiver from getting open and getting a first down.
Now that we know the basics that are asked from a cornerback by John Pagano, there are two plays that I want to highlight from Brandon Flowers from this season. Flowers has put on a clinic on how to excel in this defense. For a player who tracks the other teams #1 receiver as often as he does and plays the slot receiver (slot corner is the second hardest position next to quarterback in my opinion), Flowers has put up some eye-popping numbers. That said, I don't want to make this about numbers, but about Flowers understanding for the game.
Defending the Pick Route to Perfection
I mentioned how hard it is to play slot corner. It's already hard enough as a defensive back as it is with the way the rules are in today's league. Give a receiver a 2-way go and you're all but hanging the defender out to dry. On this route combination against the Jets, Flowers plays it to perfection.
Flowers is matched up on shifty slot receiver Jeremy Kerley, who has a head of steam from motioning to the left side of the offensive formation. The deep flag route is set up to be a natural pick play, to create space for Kerley. The plan is for Flowers to overreact to Kerley selling the fact that he's running an out-breaking route, only for him to break back inside.
At the top of the route, the Jets have the exact look that they want. Flowers appears to be walled off so he can't make a play on the ball. Kerley has plenty of green grass towards the middle of the field and this has the makings of a big play. Except, Flowers takes advantage of 2 miscues by the Jets and makes them pay. Not only is Flowers able to fight through the receiver trying to set a natural pick on him, he's also able to undercut Kerley's route, cross his face, and make a play on the pass. Let's watch the play at full speed.
An amazing play by Flowers that really highlights his football intelligence. A huge 3rd down stop.
Incredible Football Awareness
As a football player, sometimes you just have to play football. You have to be aware of your surroundings. What's drawn up on the chalkboard isn't always going to be what you have to do. This is a key 3rd and 2 play against the Jaguars. This is another pick route concept. It's essentially a 1-man route.
The tight end is running a drag route, all he needs to do is beat Eric Weddle across the field in man coverage and he has a 1st down. The two yellow squares don't even run real routes. Both go to cut off oncoming defenders in an effort to free the tight end from Weddle.
Weddle is the blue arrow. The yellow arrow closest to him has done his job, all but taking Weddle out of the play. The second arrow is to cut off Donald Butler, who is the free defender, from making the play.
Flowers could easily over pursue and play his man, but this isn't his first rodeo. He sees the play developing, reads it, comes off his man, and most importantly, finishes the play.
This is one of my favorite plays from Flowers during the season so far. He's been as efficient a tackler as he has been a cover man, which is saying something. We've seen Flowers in the open field with a runner and he has yet to lose a 1-on-1 situation.
Flowers is playing at a very high level and it's because of his understanding for the game. I could show about 10 of these types of plays. Not only is he making all the plays physical, but there are no mental lapses. Hopefully, we can see Flowers perform at this level as a Charger for the rest of his prime.