The common thinking is that rookies are much more unpredictable than veterans. Some unknowns rise up while other sure-things founder. This is partially true. While we have seen very little of Levi Brown against top competition, we, at lest, know where he stands athletically. That's because draft picks are poked, prodded, timed and studied meticulously by a sea of scouts. We know, for instance, that Brown is a powerful run blocker but rather inagile against the edge rush.
Veterans are another story. Patrick Kerney, no matter how much of a workout warrior or gamer is past his athletic prime. No one has held a stop watch to him in a public manner in quite some time. We do not know how fast or agile he is. We don't know just how powerful he is. After a career altering pectoral tear last season, we do not know fully how his health or upper-body strength is holding up. Kerney is, in effect, redefining how we evaluate his skills every week.
That's why when we look at the matchup between Brown and Kerney, we should understand that in different ways each will be filling in some of the blanks on the other. Kerney generated very little of his rush on Sunday from the outside. In this sense, he doesn't have the precise skill-set that could expose Brown. Kerney instead prefers to melee his opponent with a fast first step, muscle and superior technique. Brown, likewise, is a power blocker that attacks opponents head on. He locks down rushers and manhandles defenders in the run game. So it's strength versus strength.
For most of his career Kerney has been thought of as a pass rush first sack artist, often at the expense of his run defense. Some of that reputation is attributable to Atlanta's overall poor rush defense, Kerney, therefore, was doing cleanup work on rushes the Falcons defensive tackles and/or linebackers should have taken care of. His 4+ yard per tackle average in 2005 and 2006 as measured by Football Outsiders (that's considered bad for a lineman FYI) are, therefore, equal parts hustle and aggression.
On Sunday with a much stronger supporting cast, he showed better discipline, not just barreling headlong into the opponent's backfield, but also disengaging, spying the quarterback and putting himself in better position to handle runs. Despite Jeremy Trueblood's size, he's more of finesse blocker. Faced with a more physical, far savvier pass rusher he was repeatedly beat. Brown is a pure, from the mold, Mauler. He doesn't string wide or out-technique, he dominates. A younger, fitter Kerney might savior such a matchup, but this version could just as easily show his age as school the kid.
Here's what we can look for: Who is getting most of the push? Is Brown blowing Kerney back? Is Kerney consistently causing Brown to backpedal--does he look overwhelmed or overmatched hand fighting? If Kerney loses the fight at the point of attack, does he adjust, try and work to the outside or inside and if so does he still have the acceleration to get a step on Brown? When Arizona rushes to the right, is Kerney able to disengage, move his body out and away from Brown to stifle the B and C gaps? Or is he being locked down, steered by Brown out and away from the play?
Most of this should be pretty clear after only a few series. The results may not be immediate, but who wins these matchups between Kerney and Brown will eventually bear fruit. Kerney winning means a stifled outside rushing game and good pressure to Matt Leinart's blindside. Brown winning means too many cleanup tackles by Marcus Trufant and too much time for Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald to carve up the secondary. The Hawks are the clearly better team on paper, but if one of their best pass rushers is neutralized, they may not look like it on Sunday.