Monday, hours before the NFL trade deadline the Seattle Seahawks finalized the long-rumored trade for Houston Texans left tackle Duane Brown. Brown had held out the first six games of the 2017 season aiming for the Texans organization to guarantee future years of his salary, so there isn’t much film to evaluate how Brown, a three time Pro Bowler and an All Pro tackle in 2012, is playing in his 10th year in the league.
However, Seattle scouts were able to get a good look at Brown up close against the Seahawks Sunday in his first action back since ending his contract dispute. Apparently, John Schneider’s team liked what they saw, and pulled the trigger a day later.
Brown seems certain to be an upgrade from Rees Odhiambo, whose lack of professional experience compounded by rawness playing out of position in emergency relief of George Fant has caused problems in Seattle’s protections all year. Seahawks fans have been craving this type of move ever since, and even before, Seattle declined to resign Russell Okung in the 2016 offseason, so I cut together some clips of Brown’s performance in the Houston offense—which generated more than 500 yards against the Seahawks last week—to take a closer look at the player they’re getting.
Brown is number 76, the big left tackle, and should be easy to find in these clips so I didn’t add any highlighting to identify Brown. I also didn’t draw up gaps or assignments. Field Gulls will have a more detailed breakdown of Brown’s fundamentals and what techniques he adds to Seattle’s offensive line later this week. This is just a compilation of plays to get a sense of how Brown did on Sunday.
You can see in the first cut Brown’s savvy sorting out the complicated layers of the pass rush: Initially assigned to Frank Clark lined up wide of the formation, Brown senses immediately when Clark doesn’t rush and moves his attention to help Texans left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo double team Sheldon Richardson. But Brown remains totally aware and when Jarran Reed comes looping around the outside, Brown gets just enough of a shoulder to widen Reed’s bend and buy time for Deshaun Watson to get the throw off.
Next, on Earl Thomas’s interception, Brown faces off with Dwight Freeney in a matchup of two big time veterans getting their first run all year. Brown is of course well familiar with the former division rival Freeney from his time with the Indianapolis Colts, and handles Freeney’s bull rush, absorbing all the oncoming momentum with strength and solidness Odhiambo has never displayed. Pressure from Clark on the opposite side forces the bad throw.
The next few plays show Brown’s comfort on the left end as he keeps Clark at bay to sustain the pocket and in the following clip immediately establishes depth in his drop against Freeney that gives his decisive quarterback a lane to scramble left. A few series later Brown swallows Marcus Smith and ends the play twisting Smith to the turf in a semi-pancake with Su’a-Filo.
In Houston’s two minute drill at the end of the half, watch again how Brown adeptly passes off Freeney to the inside to switch to the stunting Richardson. Not to keep picking on Odhiambo, but you can picture him getting run in a circle on a move like this.
Then it’s Brown’s experience showing again as he remains in front of Freeney’s spin move, avoids holding the twisting veteran as Freeney bends again inside, and keeps Watson clean. Next Brown shows off his speed on a slipscreen as he quickly gets out in front of the play without risking an ineligible receiver penalty, and corrals Bobby Wagner from the numbers halfway to the sideline.
Finally, there’s a glimpse of Houston’s late touchdown, where amid chaos in the Texans pocket Brown calmly stays in front of his man K.J. Wright. As you can see, though the Seahawks sacked Watson five times on the day, none of them came from Brown’s end of the line.
Here we take a look at run blocking, where the results are a little more mixed. On the first clip, you see Brown bullying Richardson, keeping the versatile end from twisting back toward the play even as Wagner stuffs Lamar Miller. Next you see Brown draw Branden Jackson outward to help move the crease left for a small gain.
But on the following example, Brown allows Michael Bennett to cross his face to blow up a run for a huge loss near Houston’s own goal line. It could be a miscommunication, or it could be Bennett’s famous get-off from the line of scrimmage, but this play looks too typical of a Seattle run result.
Brown is back to his quick, powerful self on the next cut as he curls inside to seal Richardson off from a big hole for Miller down the field. The next run on a shift left is less successful, and yielded a holding penalty on the Texans beside, but Brown kicks out Michael Wilhoite to do his part in making the lane.
Brown allows Nazair Jones to beat him in the middle for a quality stuff, but then Brown gets the better of Jones, driving him deep into the second level in the final clip of these run actions.
You can’t see it well on the broadcast footage and even this All-22 camera angle isn’t wide enough to show it, but on Richard Sherman’s first interception in the third quarter, Brown gets called for unnecessary roughness helping set the Seahawks up at first and goal. You can see on the far right of the screen on the sideline view, and at the very bottom in the end zone angle, that what happens is Reed goes after Watson to block following the pick and then you can tell from Brown’s angle toward the play that he must have chased after Reed to protect his quarterback and probably made contact after the whistle.
It was Brown’s only penalty of the week—and Brown was only called for a single penalty all year in 2016 when he played 12 games. In fact, Brown has just nine holding calls and 23 false starts against him in 10 years so his presence alone should help clean up some of Seattle’s penalty issues along the line. According to the NFLpenalties.com database, Brown is also good for about two of these personal fouls or unnecessary roughness flags a season too—but Tom Cable probably likes that.
At last, I wanted to highlight something I noticed on a couple plays: Brown communicating with Su’a-Filo. First he helps Su’a-Filo adjust the presnap protections as he alerts the guard that Wagner’s easing off his rush and in the second clip, after Bennett again gets across his face for a tackle from the backside, they hold a discussion about the responsibility for that gap.
These aren’t necessarily exceptional dialogs for a left tackle and left guard, but in addition to providing superior play in place of Odhiambo one of the values of a player like Brown added to the line is how he may help tutor the younger members of the program about the intricacies of playing on the end. We heard last week about how much Freeney’s extra wisdom should be able to contribute on the defensive front, but with no comparable peers like Freeney has in Michael Bennett or even Cliff Avril’s presence in the building, the Seahawks have even more to gain from Brown’s leadership on offense without a similar respected veteran lineman. Think of how training with Walter Jones seemed to improve Fant in the offseason.
No matter what the organization ends up doing with Brown after the season, a few months of him around Fant and Odhiambo and Germain Ifedi could have lasting influence on the team.
It’s worth repeating also when perusing these clips that this was Brown’s first activity of the season, and now he’s joining a new team with a new playbook. As John P. Gilbert wrote Tuesday, Brown should be well acclimated to the zone blocking principles at the bottom of Cable’s scheme, but there may still be some adjustment period as Brown gets used to his teammates and the timing of Seattle’s offense.
Brown also took one series off in the first quarter on Sunday, the Texans’ fourth drive. It only amounted to three plays because in Brown’s absence the Seahawks sacked Watson for the first time in the game (officially—an earlier sack was blown dead on a late timeout) and forced Houston’s first three and out. Perhaps that’s why Brown remained in the lineup for the remainder of the day. But whether it was a conditioning issue or something else related to Brown’s fitness it will be worth monitoring how much he plays as he eases onto his role in Seattle.