When the Seahawks played in St. Louis three weeks ago, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo thought he had a plan to lessen the impact of a Seattle defense that was holding opponents to averages of 106.4 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry.
Rather than pound away at the stout unit with Steven Jackson, who was coming off three consecutive 100-yard performances, the Rams tested the Seahawks’ untested cornerbacks by having Sam Bradford put the ball up 40 times.
Bradford targeted Brandon Lloyd 14 times, with only five completions; and Brandon Gibson seven times, with only four completions. That’s because
The Seahawks and Rams get together again on Monday night at CenturyLink Field, and the Brandon Browner who will be on the field this time is not the same player who took the field prior to that game Edward Jones Dome on Nov. 20.
Something happened to Browner that day – when the Rams threw his way 18 times – that has allowed him to intercept three passes in the past two weeks and breakup 11 in the past four.
“I had that feeling that game where I just felt really comfortable,” Browner said. “I felt like I was in a zone that game. You could say that game was a turning point, but you never know. But I really felt good that game.”
Teams have continued to challenge the 6-foot-4 Browner, who continues to answer them.
“He’s really drawn a lot of attention from other teams. They’re going after him,” coach Pete Carroll said. He’s had a lot of opportunities, if you look at it.”
And is making the most of them. Browner had two interceptions against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, one setting up a touchdown and the other coming at the Seahawks’ 40-yard line. He also had one the week before against the Redskins that led to the Seahawks’ first TD.
It all started in that game against the Rams.
“The game slowed down for me a little bit in that game. Things just seemed to be happening slower than it was earlier in the season,” Browner said. “And it allows me to play faster. I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to me.
“Early on, it was hectic a little bit. So I was battling the excitement and my nerves and the crowd and all that. Now, I’m just playing football again.”
Browner’s signature play, which allowed him to flaunt his game speed, came on a club-record 94-yard interception return for a touchdown to ice the Week 5 upset of the New York Giants.
“I’m not a fast 40-guy. I’m a competitor,” said Browner, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds at the scouting combine in 2005 and also at his Pro Day workout at Oregon State that spring. “I’m more of a football-speed type of guy. I can’t run a straight line, but I can play fast in between the whistle.”
So why would anyone think it’s a good idea to throw at Browner? Well, there’s his size. No one who is as large as Browner (221 pounds) should be able to move like he does. There’s also his pedigree, as he spent the past four seasons playing for the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL, and trying to get into the NFL.
“I think he attracts attention because he’s unusually sized and guys wonder, ‘How can this guy get it done? How can he play?’ ” Carroll said. “So he’s had a lot of opportunities.”
Then there’s the physical nature of Browners’ game. Nature? He can be a beast of a cornerback, the way he jams receivers off the line and then blankets and jostles them in coverage. Too much so, at times, as evidenced by the 16 penalties he has drawn for pass interference, holding, illegal contact and personal fouls.
“We’re still trying to school him in terms of how aggressive he can be,” Carroll said. “We love his aggressive play, but sometimes it goes over the top and he has to learn what’s OK in the league so that he can cut down on that stuff.”
Blur the line? Fine. But step over it? Not so fine. Because the penalties that have been called on Browner also have overshadowed the flipside of his game.
“I’ve always dealt with that,” Browner said of being targeted by the officials, as well as opposing quarterbacks. “Even in college. I probably led collegiate football and led the CFL. It goes both ways. I’m a physical guy. It always seems to bite me in the butt sometimes.”
There is a method to the madness, so to speak.
“I don’t want the receiver coming at me comfortable,” Browner said. “When a receiver is coming at you comfortable, they seem to get in and out of their breaks smooth and that’s when you see them catching balls. So I want to knock them off and disrupt those routes.”
And those penalties also help Browner creep into the heads of opposing coaches and players as they prepare to play the Seahawks. Ask about the Seattle defense and one of the first things they mention – if not the first thing – is Browner and his size.
Told that, Browner laughed and said, “I appreciate those guys.”
Just as Carroll is appreciating what Browner is bringing to the mix.
“He’s been a real factor,” Carroll said. “He’s really a good football player. He’s causing problems for our opponents and he’s making a lot of plays. We trust him and like that he’s played such an aggressive style that he can disrupt receivers and make plays for us.”
Spagnuolo and the Rams learned that lesson in the hardest of ways when they went after Browner and Sherman.
“Both those guys that they’ve got playing for them give them some size and long arms and they press just like we do, so I think that has helped,” Spagnuolo said. “In the last four weeks, they’ve done very well against the run. And anytime you have confidence in your corners, in your mind eliminating a wideout per say, you can do different things run defense-wise.
“I just think it all fits together and helps the whole defense.”
Even when one of those pieces might appear to be a misfit.