Brandon Browner had the ugliest game of all Seahawks defenders, which isn't saying all that much since a lot of Seahawk defensive players had less-than-ideal games. This makes him an easy scapegoat, as Danny talked about right after the game, but it was a general eye-opening game after some had been fooled by the defensive performance against the 49ers, which we had warned against.
Browner did have an odd game, to put it mildly. Most of his struggles are easy to explain as him lacking the speed and awareness to cover a wide receiver like Mike Wallace. "Speed" here isn't just straight-line speed. Browner may be athletic enough to still play cornerback at 6'4, but he does not turn on a dime, he lacks the short-area quickness to go up against these smaller guys.
Perhaps an even bigger concern is his lack of interest in the ball. Rarely does he turn his head around before the ball arrives, which is a problem both because he is preventing himself from being able to make a play on the ball, and because referees will flag you for pass interference a lot quicker if you don't even seem to be interested in the ball. In fact, while you can argue over some of the flags Browner drew in these last two games, it's hard to deny that he's making it easier on the refs by making his interference rather obvious.
What I found more curious about this game was the lack of jam from Browner. He was occasionally lined up five or six yards off the line, which in itself is an odd use of Browner's talents. Where Trufant used such cushions in this game to make sure he could at least contain against long runs, Browner looked inept trying to execute the same idea. And even when lined up right on his man, he seemed hesitant to put a hand on him, even just to shove him to the outside lane. I have no explanation there. Perhaps he was intimidated by the receivers' speed, perhaps he was instructed to be extra careful with his hands for fear of penalties.
A few stand-out moments...
(12:19) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass incomplete deep left to 17-M.Wallace. PENALTY on SEA-39-B.Browner, Defensive Pass Interference, 39 yards, enforced at SEA 40 - No Play.
Seemingly being lined up over Antonio Brown, Browner does not follow the receiver as he motions to the right, instead tracking Mike Wallace into the endzone. Classic of our LCB/RCB formation, I think it leaves no one covering Brown. Once in the endzone, Browner has a ton of contact prior to the snap, with his right hand on Wallace's shoulder, and never gets his head around. This one is too easy for the refs to flag, even though Browner appears surprised at it. Browner was one-on-one with no safety help here, for unclear reasons, so a PI is a better result than a TD catch, but he should be smarter about it.
1-10-PIT 17 (9:35) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 17-M.Wallace to PIT 29 for 12 yards (31-K.Chancellor, 39-B.Browner).
The Steelers are lined up with two wide, but Hines Ward motions in to block, so the Seahawks are understandably reading run, eight of them right on the line of scrimmage. Wallace is by his lonesome on the left side, and for some inexplicable reason both Browner and Chancellor are lined up opposite him at a distance of about eight yards. Chancellor moves towards Wallace right off the snap but then hesitates, while Browner is backpedaling to nowhere. This gives Wallace a good chunk of free turf, and he takes it.
3-3-SEA 31 (4:38) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 17-M.Wallace to SEA 22 for 9 yards (39-B.Browner).
Wallace and Brown are lined up left, Thurmond is in as a nickel on Brown, Browner has Wallace. Again, both are lined up with 5-6 yard cushions. Browner backpedals like mad off the snap, and while the game footage doesn't show what happens in between, he's about three yards behind Wallace when the ball arrives. He comes in immediately for the tackle, but that's pretty bad.
3-3-PIT 36 (7:51) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 84-A.Brown to PIT 50 for 14 yards (39-B.Browner). 1-10-PIT 50
(7:07) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short middle to 17-M.Wallace to SEA 27 for 23 yards (39-B.Browner).
This was the drive of drives right here, midway through the third quarter, Ben was just outright picking on Browner, resulting in the touchdown described below. First catch, Browner gives Brown a six yard cushion and is two yards behind him when the catch is made. Second catch, Browner is up on the line but never puts a hand on Wallace, who uses the free release to run a slant inside, for an easy catch-and-run that goes way too far because Browner is too slow to tackle him from behind. Browner eventually gets the tackle only because Wallace has to slow down due to Earl Thomas, and Browner noticeably pulls him down by the back of the jersey. Should have been flagged for a horse collar.
2-2-SEA 2 (3:36) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 17-M.Wallace for 2 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Steelers line up with a bunch to the right of the line, and Mike Wallace alone on the left side, threatening run. Ben Roethlisberger saw the Browner-Wallace matchup presnap, takes the snap and quickly hucks the ball a few yards into the endzone. Wallace runs a fade, and Browner again refuses to jam him. Wallace did not start in the shoulders low/hands up position that receivers usually use to beat the press on a fade, so he's either trusting in Browner to bite on the play design (which the commentators theorize he does) or just doesn't respect his jamming. With a free release by Wallace this play is basically over. Browner never turns his head to the ball but I doubt he would've been in position to make a play.
3-9-PIT 27 (1:52) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass deep left to 17-M.Wallace to SEA 20 for 53 yards (29-E.Thomas).
Browner is lined up directly opposite Mike Wallace. He vaguely pushes him to the outside to have the inside lane. The pass rush gets to Roethlisberger but - showing good pocket poise - he heaves it just as he's about to get hit. At about the 25 yard line, Browner slows down, turning to look back for the ball over his left shoulder. That mistake allows Wallace to create five yards of separation and reach for an overthrown pass. He only just hauls it in by the tip of the ball, before stumbling to the ground with a little help from Earl Thomas. That said, with the ball placement being what it was, and it being a deep middle route, Thomas should probably have been in a better position to make a play as well.
Usually when a corner is consistently in trouble you look at the pass rush. And it's true, the Seahawks pass rush was not in top form, it was highly inconsistent throughout the game. But that's not much of an explanation here. Those teeth-grindingly annoying passes listed above were all quick passes, with only the PI in the endzone and the 53-yard pass taking more than a few seconds to develop. A lot of pass rush can be negated when quick routes like these are available, and Ben Roethlisberger is certainly a good enough quarterback to make full use of that.
There is a lot that frustrates me here. It would be easy to bash Browner, and I'm certainly not his biggest fan, but I simply do not understand what our defensive coordinator was trying to accomplish in this game. Why were all our corners playing with six yard cushions, or if not with such cushions not jamming at all? Why are we still holding on so stringently to the easily exploitable RCB/LCB scheme? Why was Browner in as the base RCB at all? Even the commentators were crying out for an adjustment in the third quarter, but it was nowhere to be seen.
While the Browner gamble is still, in my opinion, working out better than many expected, he doesn't look to me like the kind of player you line up as a starter regardless of matchups. Much like our corner depth in Richard Sherman and even more so Byron Maxwell, Browner is not the kind of guy you want lining up against the Mike Wallaces of the world. At the start of the season I expected Walter Thurmond to start opposite Marcus Trufant (with Thurmond kicking inside to the slot on nickel downs, or heavy usage of Earl Thomas as a nickel corner in these situations) and that's a change I still expect the front office to make once Thurmond catches up. But mostly, I just want to see more flexibility, and actual adjustments prior to and during games.
That said, one matchup where he is particularly badly set up and the coordinator refuses to adapt should not blind us to the fact that Browner's play can be strong as long as the matchup is right. With Arizona up next, Browner is probably the best fit of our corner group to go up against Larry Fitzgerald, and it'll be interesting to see how he does with a matchup better suited to his skills.