After Five Yards: Studying Patriots Cornerback Brandon Browner

Brandon Browner won’t be on the field for the first four Patriots games of 2014, but his physical impact will keep him on the field from Week 5 on. (NFL Game Rewind)

NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas

Wide receivers can take Brandon Browner downfield, but they have to take at least five yards from him first.

It is there that the former Denver Bronco, Calgary Stampeder and Seattle Seahawk has overpowered his undrafted expectations. And it is because, right off the snap, his 6’4”, 221-pound frame has kept teammates close and opponents closer.

Three Canadian Football League All-Star Games and one National Football League Pro Bowl have been the byproduct for the cornerback. And 10 interceptions, 39 pass deflections and 117 tackles have been registered in his name since his inaugural start for Seattle in September of 2011.

Over the last two seasons, though, 12 missed regular-season games have also been registered. Browner was suspended for the first four games of 2012 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Then in 2013, he lost time with a hamstring injury before being suspended indefinitely for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Sitting out the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run, there was a possibility that Browner would never log another down in the NFL.

“For the last few months, my future has been in a dark place,” Browner said during his conference call with the media on March 17.

His violations dated back to 2005 in some capacity, and his opportunity for free agency loomed under a cloud of uncertainty. Yet on March 4, much of that uncertainty dissipated. Browner was reinstated by the NFL after seeing his year-long ban shortened to four games.

He reached a three-year, $17 million agreement with the New England Patriots 10 days later, joining prized free-agent acquisition Darrelle Revis in the process.

“To be able to play with that guy, it will be fun,” Browner said of Revis. “He’s actually the only guy I asked to trade and exchanged a jersey with. That’s the kind of respect that guy’s gained. I just look forward to playing and playing alongside him and the rest of those guys up in New England.”

Now unlike Revis, Browner won’t be on the field for the first month of New England’s 2014 campaign. But his physical method of impact is likely to keep him on it from then on.

The 29-year-old illustrated why during his eight-game sample size last season, as 16 receivers combined for 20 receptions, 240 yards and two touchdowns against his jurisdiction.

Whether it was press-man, off-man or zone, Browner proved that those initial steps off the line of scrimmage are vital to those final steps before the catch. For the pass may never come to fruition.

In addition to stifling releases at the snap, Browner dictated the course of action beyond it during his tenure with the Seahawks. In doing so, he proved that the limit can be stretched beyond the bounds of an invisible line.

To Browner – whose two illegal contact, five holding, and five pass-interference penalties once mounted into the second-most penalties in the league, according to The Football Database – the five-yard bubble is more of a suggestion than a rule.

It is a risk-reward manner in which he can test officials, receivers and even tight ends.

When Browner can force his hand underneath the pads of his target, his footwork allows him to stay in stride over the middle. And that has been the venue for him to funnel and dishevel assignments before eclipsing them.

At times, he resembles a sidecar tagging along for the ride.

At other times, he resembles a player who needs contact and an overhead safety to outlast the quick, hip-shifting cuts of opponents.

Sprints to the underneath and double moves back to the sideline have tested Browner’s change of direction, fluidity, zone responsibilities and press-bail technique.

Speed adjustments have presented a challenge as well.

But in some sense, his deficiencies are a double-edged sword.

Browner’s NFL Game Rewind film reveals an instinctual player who thrives in press and trusts what he sees in a route’s development. Although this can lead him to guess in the open field, it can also lead him to the right destination.

When he gets there, his size is not easily exploited. Neither is his anticipation. Browner is built for back-shoulder throws and jump-ball situations at the boundary. This is gleaned even when he doesn’t see the ball depart from the quarterback’s hand.

He reacts quickly. Then he enforces the catch point.

Although Browner can get turned around on vertical patterns, he typically shows enough straight-line gallop to recover. Predominantly, however, he shows enough edge to close on the ball. And although the tie goes to the runner, No. 39 knows how to impose by splitting his arm between his opponent’s hands just as the ball arrives.

Part of that is innate, and part of that is well-traveled experience.

These kinds of deep-ball plays may be close calls. They will inevitably give way to a handful of yellow flags over the course of a season. Even so, that comes with the territory of unleashing a linebacker-sized corner into man-to-man matchups.

Browner defends pass-catchers of all sizes and all strengths. And whether it’s Reggie Wayne, Owen Daniels, Roddy White, Patrick Peterson, Kendall Wright, Vincent Jackson or Cecil Shorts, he takes on each one with the same nature.

He doesn’t leave much to take.

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11 Responses to “After Five Yards: Studying Patriots Cornerback Brandon Browner”

  1. Paul lanehart says:

    Speed is Browners’ Achilles heel. He is near 30 and could be more of a problem. He is good at press but then struggles staying in the receivers’ hip pocket once they get off the line. Seattle had a ferocious passrush which limited the amount of time he had to cover and stay with a receiver bumping and running with them because the passrush usually helped him out by limiting how long of a time he had to run with receiver’s. Many of whom faster than him. The patriots anemic passrush will expose Browners’ speed deficiency. Wilfork is turning 33 and obeese DT’s aren’t very effective after 30. He is coming off an injury to add to his problems. Wilfork was a terrible resign. He will be a shell of himself. That leaves you guys with patchwork undrafted DT’s along with a player who is behind schedule filling out his DT body due to 2 season ending injuries that prevented him from power leg workouts that is vital to growth of an NFL defensive tackle. He may be a great player one day but he has another year of growing into DT size. No matter how quick he is 284 pounds is to light for a DT. And he can’t just add 15 pounds of any kind of weight. He needs a year to correctly add the muscle he needs to play in the trenches in the NFL. He needs to be 300 or close to it. Especially since Wilfork won’t be much of a factor holding the line. Easley needs to add10 at very least 10-12 pounds of solid muscle before being a beast in the NFL. He will be playing against the best blockers he ever faced in the nfl.Its not college where most of his cempetition arent nfl talented. Right now he would be tossed around like a raft in the ocean. Even when he does add the necessary muscle to play, you guys need another 320 pound or bigger legit NT.Silica is an undrafted patchwork player.

    Your only decent guy to put any heat on qb’s is Jones. He isn’t in the class of one man passrush beasts like Watt_Quinn_Aldon Smith_Mathis_peppers_Williams. He is good but needs help. Who do you guys have? Ninkovich is an overachiever who lacks talent and getting old. He will not be that good this year not that he ever was. You have no SS. You guys have Revised and that’s it. Browner with no passrush like in Seattle will suck. Your cheap@$$ owner should have got your team another passrusher.

    Brady can’t keep carrying your offense! He is 38 now and needs some weapons. You have two white boys at WR that’s short slow and makes nothing but 5 yard catches. Edelman only makes a bunch of 4 yard catches cuz the defense plays that short area soft. He makes his 5 yard dumpoff catch like a RB makes and squirts for a couple yards before the defense closes in. He and your other white boy average 9 yards a catch. Nothing wrong with us being white.You guys Just need taller faster more athletic Receivers. Your young guys are unproven and have not shown anything special that suggests any kind of a garuntee they are #1 Receivers. Your guards and center are pathetic including Mankins. He was your only anchor but he sucked to. Knighton manhandled him! He is a year older now he isn’t going to play lg any better.

    You guys dominated our division and I knew you would every year. We were a bad teams with a worse QB. You guys had a great QB with a bad team. You guys had Wilfork to prop your terrible defense up on Popsicle sticks and glued together. Wilfork is done now. Your terrible drafting all those years will catch up to the new england Patriots this year. 2013 was an ok draft. You wasted a 2nd pick on a qb. Your first rounder was a serious injury gamble who needs a year to recover and fill out to legit DT size. You guys could have found a talented WR passrusher and Big Body DT or Big body Guard. You wait until late rounds and that’s how you fix your interior line to protect your QB who carries your team. Your cheap@$$ gm and owner should have addressed you Offensive line in free agency. LOL. Your football team is headed for disaster. Bills boneheaded mistakes will catch up this year. How long did you guys think you were going to get away with bad drafting and being cheap in free agency. You could have won a couple Superbowls and be competing for it this season. Not after your draft. Lmao A 2nd on Garapollo LOL. Mid to late rounders Savage_Mettengerger have same chance to develop. And that’s what jimmyboy is a developmental guy. When you guys had holes to address LOL.I’m not saying we win the division but you guys are going to lose more games than your used to. Ya got Revis. I supposed he will cover everybody plus rush the QB lol

  2. DMC413 says:

    So the question is when we play Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Nov 2 and I have a feeling we will see them at another point later on in the season, anyhow within playing Man, Zone or any combination of will Brandon Browner cover Demaryius Thomas or Julius Thomas?

    Will Belichick defense have him covering WR’s primarily or will he allow his CB size be the determining factor of who he matches Brandon up against which includes him covering any special skills position player.

    • steve earle says:

      If everyone on both sides are healthy Nov 2 then unlike in recent years BB will have multiple options for coverage so we are likely to see a number of match-ups to try to keep Payton from making easy decisions but the key will really be to get pressure up in his face.

      • MaineMan says:

        I agree. Relentless pressure – and CONTACT – up the middle, like what the Seahawks produced, is the key. Edge pressure and A-gap blitzes aren’t usually effective against Manning because he sees that stuff coming so easily and gets rid of the ball so quickly. But that interior pressure must be backed up by disguised coverages that are solid enough to make him hesitate just a little.

        The thing is, though, Demaryius Thomas isn’t the whole receiving show for Denver. Yeah, they lost Decker and Moreno who combined for 147 catches/1836 yds and 14 TDs last season, but they still have Welker and Andre Caldwell, and have added Emmanuel Sanders and draftee Cody Latimer. Montee Ball has more receiving chops than we saw from him past season. As a junior at Wisconsin, he caught 24/306, 6 TDs and 59/598 for his 4-year college career.

        In addition to Julius Thomas, they still have Tamme and Dreessen who, though he was used primarily as a blocker in 2013, averaged 43/317, 4 TDs in his previous 4 seasons. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the Broncos use more 2-TE sets to make up for some of the loss of Decker and Moreno.

        While we probably won’t see another 5500-yd, 55-TD year out of Peyton in 2014, he has more than enough very good targets for the Pats to cover. My guess is that the Pats use a combination of Browner and Revis (who’s pretty physical in his own right) on Demaryius and Sanders in mostly nickel and dime packages with Arrington, Harmon, Ryan and Collins in the underneath/middle, but also some of Nink (who was actually pretty good in coverage as an OLB, when called upon) or Chandler dropping back once in awhile.

        But it does all go back to getting enough quick interior pressure on Manning to disrupt hi timing and force some pre-mature throws.

        • steve earle says:

          absolutely MM ! This could be one of those two undefeated matchup games again between Brady and Manning. I’m really looking forward to this Nov. praying Easley is healthy and as good as he is supposed to be and Wolfolk and Kelley healthy too.

        • DMC413 says:

          Some very valid points fellas, pressure up the middle seems to be one of the key factors in disrupting great QB’s as Brady struggles most when there is that constant pressure in his face coming from the middle of the D as well.

          I wouldn’t mind seeing a 3-4 scheme or a hybrid of some sort sprinkled in the game plan. BB had a lot of success against Peyton during their early battles utilizing it… I believe the added LB’s can be very advantageous in blitz schemes or zone coverage’s and confusing the QB ultimately resulting in Peyton taking longer to diagnose the defense and that one or two seconds is all it takes in producing sacks and bad throws that lead to interceptions.

          With all the different pieces we have on D, BB could add to the complexity of the defensive scheme by disguising it as I mentioned earlier as a hybrid of some sort. A 4-3 or Nickel where Will Smith is lined up on the DL and either him or Nikovich drop back into coverage.

          The D could audible in and out of run/pass support. For run you would have the needed size on the field for run support with Wilfork, Kelly and Will Smith on the DL with supporting help from LB’s Hightower and Mayo. If audibled to a pass you have Ninko dropping back into coverage w/ Mayo and Collins or James Anderson if in a 4-3 scheme or the third CB if in Nickel.

          As you can see all the previous mentioned is endless with all the different players you can plug in, not a bad problem to have! But yes if we can create instant pressure from the front four we will be talking “SB’s and not just making the Playoffs” once again!

        • Jack says:

          People rightfully so tend to make a great deal out of the Pat’s depth in DB, but how stoke-worthy is it that the Pats have Tommy Kelly coming back *and* Easley to hopefully present mucho pressure from the inside. I’m not giving up on Armstead either.

          Given the depth at DB, I’m thinking there’s a good chance we have a solid secondary for the entire season. If Wilfork/Kelly/Easley are healthy, then the Pats might just pull off that lethal, dare I say Seahawks-like combination of a pass defense that gives the rush extra time to get to the QB *and* a pass-rush that helps the defensive back by limiting the time the QB has to make decisions and get the ball out.

          Also, the linebacker they picked up from Chicago, Anderson, was one of the top pass-defenders in the league among linebackers (though one of the worst against the run). So, he adds key depth to the linebacker corps and, when paired with Collins in a 4-2-5 defensive alignment, could make for a very nice set of coverage linebackers in a nickel formation. I’m still thinking a defensive backfield of Brown/Harmon/McCourty/Revis/Dennard, with the down lineman as Jones, Ninko, Easley, and Kelley.

    • steve earle says:

      Sounds like a good possability if everyone is healthy. The more options BB has to make Payton hesitate the better. Right now we’re a little shallow at LB for a 3-4 if there is an injury there but thinking on it against Manning in a passing situation extra DB’s up in the box could be effective in that alignment. Intresting thought DMC, thanks.

  3. MaineMan says:

    “. . . the five-yard bubble is more of a suggestion than a rule.”

    Nice one, Mr. Thomas!

  4. steve earle says:

    I’m really looking forward to seeing Browner on the field. Love the agressive “in your face” defensive style of def he plays. He will give Patriots haters something to complain about as their teams continue to go down to defeat. GO PATS !!!!!

  5. Dylan.C says:

    I really enjoy film break downs like this post, keep em coming. One on Devin McCourty would be interesting. Allot of his contributions don’t show up in your typical highlight reals and would stand out more in all 22 film.

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