Batman and Robin, Wayne and Garth, and even Cliff Clavin and Norm Peterson—history is full of dynamic duos.
Both route runners can extend defenses deep with White specializing in moving the chains and Jones in blistering speed. White caught 92 passes this season and Jones 79. Both went north of 1,100 yards receiving and wreaked havoc on opposing defensive coordinators who attempted to find ways to contain both.
The Seattle Seahawks believe their cornerback duo of Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman can do just that.
According to Pro Football Focus, Sherman was the top rated cornerback in football in 2012, based on their cover snaps/reception statistic. Sherman was in coverage 14.8 times on the primary receiver for every one reception he allowed. He also pulled down eight interceptions, only Chicago’s Tim Jennings picked off more.
Browner ranked ninth on PFF’s cornerback coverage list, allowing just one catch per every 13.1 cover snaps. He pulled down three interceptions.
On top of their stellar play in 2012, both Sherman and Browner have the size and physical prowess to have their will with most receivers. Sherman stands at 6’3” and weighs 195 pounds. Browner is a beast at 6’4” and 221 pounds.
As good as both cornerbacks were in 2012, there’s a slight problem as they prepare to face the Falcons in the divisional round of the playoffs on Sunday in the Georgia Dome.
Jones absolutely abused Browner last season in their Week 4 matchup in Seattle.
Jones, then just a rookie in his fourth professional game, caught 11 passes for 127 yards. He was targeted 17 times as quarterback Matt Ryan and former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey quickly realized that Browner was incapable of handling Jones.
Early in the Week 4 game last year, Jones caught two first-quarter passes while Marcus Trufant was covering him. One was a quick flip to Trufant’s side (Sherman hadn’t won the starting job at corner at this point in the season), where Trufant gave him too much move to maneuver. The other was Jones coming back to the football when Ryan had to scramble.
After those two plays, Browner followed Jones for the remainder of the game, minus one play late over the middle where Jeron Johnson had to pick him up as Jones crossed the middle of the Seattle defense, and two plays in the second half where Trufant was asked to defend the rookie.
Eight of Jones’ 11 catches were short, 10 yards or less. A couple were attempted screens, which Browner defended extremely well, but most were Ryan and Jones realizing that Browner was playing way off the line of scrimmage in hopes to take away some of Jones’ blazing speed.
First Quarter, 1:06 – Atlanta 7, Seattle 0
The Falcons are lined up in 12 Personnel with Jones to the left and White to the right—neither receiver is split out wide. Browner is more than nine yards off Jones and backed up at least a step just before the snap, expecting Jones to run a deep route.
At six yards Jones ran a quick out and Browner could never recover. Browner was about three yards away from Jones and just did not have the quickness to make up the space before Jones caught the pass, gaining nine yards and moving the chains.
Most of Jones’ catches of under 10 yards resulted from Browner playing too far off. When Browner did move up to press, Ryan changed the play with Jones, who then ran a quick slant.
Third Quarter, 15:00 – Atlanta 24, Seattle 7
Atlanta came out of the locker room in the second half and immediately took a shot down the field.
Realizing that Browner was giving up a lot of foot speed to Jones, Mularkey and the coaching staff made a halftime adjustment to expose the advantage.
The Falcons lined up in 21 Personnel with White to the right and Jones split out wide to the left. Notice that Browner is up on the line in press coverage.
Jones ran a deep go route and Ryan put his pass in a perfect spot to ensure the reception. Browner played the route and pass extremely well, letting Jones get a little behind him but making up the distance when the ball was descending.
Browner was all over Jones, he could not have played defense any better unless he would have gotten a piece of the ball.
But he did not and Jones, with great concentration, pulled in the 45-yard reception.
There were two other incomplete passes in the second half where Jones was open but Ryan missed him.
Third Quarter, 3:29 – Atlanta 27, Seattle 14
On their own 4-yard line, the Falcons sent their receivers out deep and Ryan’s protection broke down. Scrambling, Ryan did not see Jones, who was coming across the field with a step on Browner. Had Ryan seen Jones, he would have easily been able to get the ball to Jones for about a 25-yard gain.
Instead, Ryan had to throw the ball away. But the coaches saw that Browner was having difficulty keeping up with Jones.
His speed was too much.
Fourth Quarter, 12:34 – Atlanta 27, Seattle 21
At this point in the game, Jones had his 11 receptions and the Seahawks made a switch and asked Trufant to cover the rookie, hoping he could keep up with Jones.
Atlanta is in 12 Personnel with White to the left and Jones to the right, everyone squeezed in together. Trufant is playing eight yards off Jones.
On Jones’ post pattern to the end zone, he gets behind Trufant, but Ryan misses him on what would have been a 25-yard touchdown strike.
If you give Jones the two incomplete passes of 25 yards, he would have had 177 yards and a touchdown on the day .
He had to settle for 127 yards on 11 catches.
But with over a year of experience together since their last meeting with Seattle, Ryan and Jones have built a great passer-route runner relationship.
In Sunday’s game, don’t expect Ryan to miss on two deep strikes.
Has Browner developed enough in that time span to do a better job covering Jones?
Browner may be able to fix the catches and yardage from playing too far off the line of scrimmage, that’s a technique change. But that may expose him to Jones’ speed. And the age-old adages are still true—you can’t teach speed and you don’t get faster as you get older.
If Jones gets in space Sunday, Browner won’t be able to cover him.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.