Brandon Browner really doesn’t like small receivers.
The New England Patriots cornerback doesn’t want to touch them, because he can’t.
“The little guys, the little quicker guys, I have a tendency to have a little problem with those guys because they can duck under my jam at times,” Browner said back in October.
Browner likes to face bigger receivers that he can jam, trail and overpower down the sideline. Browner is a product of the Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” defense, which hasn’t changed much since swapping in Byron Maxwell. Maxwell likely feels the same as Browner about those quick little guys, but he’s going to have a tough time staying away from them Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX.
When the Patriots deploy three receivers, Danny Amendola typically is in the slot, Julian Edelman is outside playing “Z” and Brandon LaFell is in the “X.” They can rotate, however, and Edelman played 41.3 percent of his snaps this season inside. LaFell played 18.7 percent of his snaps in the slot.
Opposing teams have traditionally been able to rack up yards against the Seahawks’ defense when they have two small, shifty receivers, like the Patriots.
The Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos 26-20 in Week 3, but Emmanuel Sanders went off for 11 catches on 15 targets for 149 yards while fellow Broncos receiver Wes Welker caught six passes on nine targets for 60 yards — yes, that’s right, I’m really comparing Edelman and Amendola to Welker again.
Sanders spent most of the game lined up outside, facing off against Maxwell, whom he was consistently able to beat off the snap with quickness and in his routes with a sharp cut. Maxwell had a good season replacing Browner, and he’ll match up well with LaFell, but Amendola or Edelman could be an issue. The Seahawks don’t move their cornerbacks around, so the matchup that Maxwell sees when the Patriots line up offensively is the one he’s going to get.
Edelman is similar to Sanders because of his precise route running and ability to stretch the field with deep speed. Edelman is faster now than his 4.52-second 40-yard dash from 2009 might imply.
The Patriots should have success targeting Lane in the slot, as well. He played sparingly this season as he dealt with injuries and gave up a fair share of receptions and targets, ranking in the middle of the road in Pro Football Focus’ slot cornerback rankings. Lane didn’t give up many yards, however, thanks in large part to top-tier safety and linebacker play, and a dependance on Cover-3 zone coverage.
Whichever Patriots receiver is lined up in the slot will have to do their damage 5 or 6 yards at a time.
Brady’s best bet is to ignore Richard Sherman’s taunts and stay away from the left cornerback. That is, unless Sherman’s elbow injury is altering his play, or tight end Rob Gronkowski is lined up across from him.
The Seahawks beat the Giants in Week 10, but they gave up seven catches on nine targets for 108 yards to the under-6-foot Odell Beckham Jr., and seven catches on seven targets for 79 yards to slot receiver Preston Parker.
That the Seahawks won these games didn’t get past me, but if the Patriots are going to win, then they’ll have to move the ball through the air, and if they’re going to do that, then it’s going to be with their short, shifty wideouts. (It’s also worth noting that the Broncos and Giants don’t have Tom Brady or Gronk.)
Brandon LaFell has been solid all season, but his primary responsibility might be keeping Sherman occupied, unless the Patriots decide to line him up in the slot against Lane, leaving Amendola on Sherman and Edelman to exploit Maxwell.
The Patriots also will need to get a rushing attack going early with LeGarrette Blount, and Gronkowski will do damage, as usual. But if a Patriots receiver is going to go off, then there’s a good chance that it will be Edelman and/or Amendola, and Lane or Maxwell will be on the receiving end.
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