Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has developed numerous unknowns into Pro Bowlers at cornerback but this week could be the 69 year old’s greatest challenge. The Seahawks are expected to be without starting cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar due to injury and will turn to a rotation of players who have rarely played the position at the NFL level.
It’s not as though Jared Goff, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods have been making excuses for why the passing offense hasn’t been more explosive this season, but receivers rarely get opportunities quite as tantalizing as the matchups they await on Sunday.
The #Seahawks starting corners vs. the Rams:— Joe Fann (@Joe_Fann) November 13, 2020
RCB -- Tre Flowers
LCB -- Linden Stephens, D.J. Reed or Ryan Neal
The Seahawks’ most experienced cornerback this week will be Tre Flowers, a fifth round pick in 2018 who played safety at Oklahoma State and whose struggles in 2019 prompted Carroll to trade for Dunbar. Flowers has played in 60% of the defensive snaps this season but that number would be lower if not for injuries and poor play by Dunbar.
The more intriguing lack of experience comes from the other three players who NBC Sports Northwest’s Joe Fann lists as the potential starters opposite of Flowers:
- Linden Stephens went undrafted out of Cincinnati in 2018 and briefly spent time with the Rams that year. The Seahawks are his sixth stop in three years, though Seattle is on that list twice. Stephens played in a season-high 15 snaps against the Bills last week. He had played seven total snaps on defense prior to Week 9.
- D.J. Reed was a fifth round pick by the 49ers in 2018, having played two seasons at Kansas State. Reed played in 34% of the defensive snaps for San Francisco as a rookie, then 12% during last season’s Super Bowl run. He made one special teams tackle in the Super Bowl but was also waived by the 49ers in August. Reed made his Seahawks debut only two weeks ago and he’s been immediately thrown into the fire: 94 snaps, 12 tackles, one interception and two passes defensed in two games. But in his one start, the Seahawks were obliterated by Buffalo’s Josh Allen.
- Ryan Neal went undrafted out of Southern Illinois in 2018. He signed with the Eagles but was waived early in training camp, then getting picked up by the Falcons. He spent one season there, mostly on Atlanta’s practice squad, then went to the Seahawks in 2019. Neal played some on special teams at the end of 2019. He made his first career defensive snaps in Week 3 of this season — as a safety. He replaced Jamal Adams for four starts at strong safety and then last week got all of three snaps when Adams returned.
With Adams not exactly known for his coverage skills and Seattle ranked dead last in passing yards allowed and pass attempts against, the Seahawks are daring Goff, Woods, Kupp, Josh Reynolds and Van Jefferson to come after them. Goff is on pace for just 26 touchdown passes (two fewer than Seattle’s Russell Wilson already has and only one more than the current total for Patrick Mahomes) after throwing only 22 last season. Now would be the perfect time for the Rams to make a dent on their stats and prove they can still hang points up with anybody.
Kupp is ranked 22nd in yards at 527 and has only scored two touchdowns. Woods is 36th with 436 yards and both have had their share of mistakes. Kupp has seven drops, Woods has two fumbles and his last 100-yard outing was in Week 1. If it is emphasized that “running backs do not matter,” as some have argued, then this implies that other positions do have skills that will impact how well they play against inferior or superior competition.
If Kupp and Woods are not superior to Flowers and Stephens, that would be an issue for Sean McVay. On the other side of the field, Carroll is counting on his reputation as a “cornerbacks guru.” Seattle has developed fifth rounder Richard Sherman, sixth rounder Byron Maxwell, undrafted/CFL player Brandon Browner, undrafted Justin Coleman and third rounder Griffin into corners who’ve made Pro Bowls and been paid huge sums of money for their services.
If he can do that again, then maybe the Seahawks are better off without Dunbar. If he can’t, and it sure doesn’t seem like Seattle can do much of anything on pass defense this year regardless of what moves are made, then the Rams should be feasting a week early.