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Assessing Tre Flowers' Role In Bengals Secondary

The Bengals claimed the fourth-year defensive back off of waivers this week.

The Cincinnati Bengals brought in a new face to help round out their secondary following Trae Waynes' return to injured reserve. Tre Flowers joins the team after a disastrous start to the 2021 season in Seattle.

Flowers has started 40 of a possible 47 career games, compiling three interceptions, 16 passes defended, and five forced fumbles in his career. Since the end of 2019, he's defended just one pass and caught zero interceptions. The move comes on the heels of another Waynes injury during his Bengals' tenure that's seen him suit up in three out of 21 possible games.

The Oklahoma State product was the Seahawks starting cornerback over the first three games of this season, but Pete Carroll benched him after Week 3. Whether for poor play or his open criticism of Seattle's defensive scheme, Flowers was relegated to special teams over the past two games, playing zero defensive snaps.

The 26-year-old has 16 tackles on the season, zero passes defended, and struggled in his most recent game. Kirk Cousins and the Vikings walloped the Seahawks 30-17 three weeks ago, and Flowers played a big part. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Flowers allowed 95 yards on eight completions. This season, Flowers holds a 52.9 overall Pro Football Focus grade.

"It's a schematic thing, I feel like," Flowers said after the game. "It's going to be an easy fix once we all get on the same page."

Seattle still hasn't fixed their scheme issues on the backend, ranking 28th in Football Outsider's defensive passing DVOA (26.3%). Now he heads to Cincinnati and the 12th-best defensive passing DVOA (2.6%).

At 6-3, 205 pounds, Flowers is best suited in a man-heavy scheme like the Bengals deploy, giving some hope that he can turn this ship around. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has gravitated towards strong corners who can tackle and make plays on ball carriers. 

Flowers is sound in that area of his game, having made 63 tackles with five misses since the start of 2020. His 7.9% missed tackle rate ranks in the middle of the pack amongst all NFL corners, and is a significant improvement over Eli Apple.

The first man off the bench in Cincinnati's secondary has the fifth-worst missed tackle rate among all NFL corners this season (27.6%). On the flip side, Apple is facing the most targets on the team (34) but has stepped up his play since Week 1.

On the season, Apple has allowed 193 yards receiving on a 64.7 completion rate for 5.7 yards per target and one touchdown. All of that boils down to an 89.5 QB rating allowed, second-best of any Bengals' secondary player behind Chidobe Awuzie.

The Bengals smartly scooped up Flowers as a depth piece, but Apple has done enough since his rough debut to hold onto the job outside. It's a bit surprising no other man-heavy team claimed Flowers. Corners and interior players are always in high demand as attrition ramps up throughout the season.

It's especially surprising when looking at the financial commitment. Flowers is still on his rookie deal he signed in 2018, so the Bengals are committing less than $2 million to employ him for the rest of the season.

How this affects Darius Phillips' role remains to be seen. Phillips has fallen out of favor with Anarumo, playing just 16% of the Bengals' defensive snaps in 2021. He hasn't been making a strong case to get more chances either. 

On the season, Phillips has allowed catches on 5-of-6 targets for 11.3 yards-per-target and 113.9 QB rating. If Flowers can adapt to the new scheme quickly, he has a great chance to jump his draft classmate as the Bengals' fourth corner.

The last thing Cincinnati wanted to happen was a repeat of last year's trip to Pittsburgh. They were down to their sixth-string cornerback in the Steel City and never really stood a chance on the back end. Flowers brings deep experience to help quell those fears.

That experience hasn't always been fruitful, especially since the 2019 playoffs, but the NFL is a "next man up" league, and Cincinnati addressed some of their concerns on the back end by bringing in Flowers this week. 

For more on the newest Bengal, watch some of his highlights here. 

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