The weight of the Seahawks' Sunday heartbreaker does not fall on the shoulders of any one player. Seattle failed in all three phases of the game as it blew a 15-point halftime lead to the Titans, eventually falling by a score of 33-30 in overtime.
The game turned on its head with a flip of a switch, going from a dominant home opener for the Seahawks to an utter nightmare filled with dysfunction and a sheer lack of discipline in a matter of a half. It was a game of night and day, and Seattle went to bed well before the clock struck 12.
Fears conceived over the course of the offseason came to light for fans, namely in regards to how the team's overhauled cornerback group would fare against an elite receiving duo like Tennessee's. And while D.J. Reed had a fine day—one assisted by some fortunate drops, limiting the damage to just two catches for 22 yards—Tre Flowers proved to be a legitimate liability in coverage on the right side.
Going up against Julio Jones for most of the afternoon, Flowers allowed four receptions on six targets for 102 yards. As has been the case throughout his young career, his coverage was often soft; he rarely came up to the line of scrimmage to challenge Tennessee's wideouts. For a fourth-year corner who emphasized improving his ball skills this offseason, the lack of aggressiveness is not a good look.
The space he concedes not only plays to his biggest weakness—covering in-breaking routes—but it changes the way the Seahawks play defense as a whole. On Sunday, linebacker Bobby Wagner was often forced to drop back in the middle of the field as a result of Flowers' inability to keep up with Jones' crossing patterns.
Flowers' common pre-snap alignment is—partly, at least—by design, but that doesn't make this ordeal any better. All it does is show a lack of confidence in a safety convert who, at this point, has clearly hit his ceiling as a cornerback. The Seahawks do not appear to trust him whatsoever to not get beat over the top, and their stance was proven valid early on against the Titans.
In one of his few matchups opposite A.J. Brown, Flowers got beat down the sideline but Tennessee's third-year receiver couldn't reel in what would have been a massive gain across midfield. Flowers, however, wouldn't be as fortunate later on, once again falling behind his matchup—this time Jones—on a post route that netted the Titans 51 yards in the second quarter.
“They managed through the game," head coach Pete Carroll evaluated of his corners on Monday. "I didn’t like the big post route. That was a safety help as well. For the most part, we got beat on a double move one time with Tre, it didn’t look good. They’re hanging in there. They’re battling. We mixed a lot of different coverages and a lot of different stuff that they did. They were involved with run support quite a bit too in the game, like the one on the big play we missed. They’re battling.”
For a Seahawks team with Super Bowl aspirations, they frankly have to do better than "battling" at the crucial cornerback position, particularly on the right side. Options, of course, are thin at the moment. On Monday, Carroll shot down a potential reunion with free agent Richard Sherman in his weekly appearance on 710 ESPN Seattle.
The trade market is a possible avenue the Seahawks could eventually take, especially with a favorable $10.7 million in available cap space. But nothing will come of that immediately and they need to identify an immediate solution, or something that can at least bridge the gap to an eventual trade or the return of rookie Tre Brown (knee).
At this point, it's hard not to feel like the only way they can go is up—no matter who they choose, within reason. Despite having the most starting experience of any Seahawks corner, Flowers is simply too unreliable to be playing extensive snaps every Sunday. Seattle might as well see what it has in an unknown such as Sidney Jones, John Reid or Bless Austin.
Jones is likely the first in line to replace Flowers. The former University of Washington standout has primarily practiced on the right side since his return to the Pacific Northwest and the Seahawks invested a sixth-round pick to acquire him from the Jaguars out of the preseason.
“It’s all practice stuff and a little special teams stuff so far," Carroll said of Jones' workload in Seattle thus far. "It’s a little bit of a challenge for us to get him—and Bless too—to get those guys enough really good reps to see them on our field with us. I think I said this last week, they are accumulating reps and opportunities as they work and both those guys look good. They look like they can help us. We just have to make the call when it’s time to give them a chance to play. It’s not a position that we rotated a lot of guys over the years so we have to wait and see how that fits.”
For now, a by-committee approach might make the most sense. Before the Seahawks spend more assets on supplementing their secondary, they first need to figure out what they have behind Flowers and Reed. And by that time, Brown could be activated off the injured reserve list and give them yet another option to ponder.
Whether that leads to an upgrade over Flowers or not remains to be seen, but Seattle knows what it has there and cannot afford to continue giving snaps to a player whose potential—or lack thereof—has become unmistakably defined. Not with Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Deebo Samuel, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp lurking on the immediate schedule.