First, let me tell you that the New England Patriots defense is still a work in progress. The defensive line is playing with a healthy rotation of Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, and Jabaal Sheard on the edge, and Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga, Malcom Brown, and Alan Branch on the inside.
Second, let me tell you that film review of the Patriots defensive tackles is a near impossible task because the numbers 90 (Brown), 96 (Siliga), and 99 (Easley) are near identical in the coach's tape. It takes at least ten takes before I can figure out that I'm watching Siliga instead of Brown, and Easley is deceptively large on the field.
I wanted to spend some time watching the rookie Brown, not because I was expecting that he'd be Vince Wilfork reincarnate, or that he'd be an instant star to rub in the faces of the remaining Colts fans, but mostly to see his utility on the field.
When the Patriots drafted Brown and added him to their fierce rotation on the defensive front, I thought it was a sign that the Patriots would start rushing the quarterback non-stop, but with three fairly mobile quarterbacks over the first three weeks of the season, we have yet to see an uncorked pass rush.
We have seen a fair bit of Brown over the first three weeks and we're able to form an opinion of how he's played and what he'll bring to the team for the rest of the season.
Pro Football Focus ranks Malcom Brown 68th of their 70 qualifying defensive tackles against the run. Based on personal film review, I don't really disagree.
Brown has really struggled against the run and hasn't had much of an impact. Yes, there are a couple quality stops, but overall there are some serious technique issues that need to be rectified before he takes the next step on the field.
Brown is the Patriots defensive tackle hidden behind the field goal post. He gets sealed out by the center and blown out of the rushing lane. The entire defense bites on the potential jet sweep and linebacker Dont'a Hightower tries to make a big play in the backfield instead of clogging the lane. No one does a good job on this play.
But Brown gets collapsed and pressed out of the rushing lane without much trouble.
This is a positive play from Brown where he rips away and sheds the center to make the arm tackle on the running back. He surrenders his inside shoulder a little too easily for comfort, but he uses his physical tools to overcome. He does a good job of staying low so he can use his lower legs to lift the center before making the tackle.
This is a fairly uninteresting play, but you can see the issue that Brown currently has with conceding his shoulder. Bills guard Richie Incognito is so fluid in getting under Brown's arms and just pivots the Patriots rookie out of the rushing lane. The defensive tackle is supposed to keep his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and Brown gets turned far too easily.
Brown faces the Jaguars left guard Zane Beadles and gets run out of position. Instead of maintaining his gap integrity, Brown has his own momentum used against him. The Jaguars set up a really pretty wall on the right side of the line and Brown gets washed away. Rob Ninkovich is blown up by the tight end and the left tackle gets a free release to block in the second level. Luckily it's a 1st and 20, but the Patriots defensive line wasn't very successful.
Similar to the prior play, Brown seemingly makes a positive play by penetrating into the backfield, but it seems like the Jaguars wanted to create a rushing lanes between their left tackle and guard. The Jaguars left guard didn't get a clean block on Brown, but he still pushed him to the ground.
The Jaguars running back doesn't get a clean plant foot to drive into the lane, which is due to Brown's rush, and Siliga manages to slide over into Brown's open gap. This is a play for the coaches to look at while knowing the actual play call.
Maybe Brown was over-eager and became a liability. Maybe he did his job. That's unknown.
Keep in mind that these are designed run plays that targeted Brown. He was pretty stout when the runs weren't in his direction, but he still has a long way to go before he deserves any comparison to Vince Wilfork. That said, Wilfork was also used in a rotation as a rookie, so Brown is far from a finished product.
Brown has to do a much better job of staying square with the line of scrimmage so the opposing offensive line doesn't have easy control of moving his frame out of rushing lanes. He also has to contain his enthusiasm a bit and ensure that his aggressive defense isn't used against him.
Both are improvements that stem from technique and experience, which is a good thing as far as growth potential. It's not like he's physically unable to play- he's just raw. His run defense is worth monitoring as we move forward.
Where Brown does deserve a comparison to Vince Wilfork is with his pass rushing usage. Brown isn't a destructive force like Wilfork, but the Patriots have employed Brown in a similar manner to how Big Vince used to play.
You can see that Brown, originally lined up in between the center and right guard, isn't really trying too hard to rush quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He presses the pocket and draws the attention of all three interior linemen. The Patriots are kind of lucky that Jabaal Sheard gets stoned by Richie Incognito on a stunt, or else Taylor might still be running.
But you can see Brown use his strength to buckle the center and put him on the ground. That's how the Patriots defend against mobile quarterbacks- by slowly squeezing the pocket until they make a mistake and get sacked by Chandler Jones.
Maybe it's just Bills center Eric Wood, but here's what Brown looks like when he actually tries to bull rush the quarterback. He just rocks him back into the quarterback's lap, while maintaining great leverage and ability to shed his blocker should the quarterback try to scramble in either direction.
The Patriots used Brown against the Jaguars as a space eater. He opened up room for other pass rushers to get after quarterback Blake Bortles. He didn't really get near the quarterback (although there's one debateable pressure where Bortles panicked when he saw either Brown or Chandler Jones get past their blocker).
Brown won't be a fierce pass rusher, but he offers enough value in the Patriots system to allow the other players to do their jobs and get after the quarterback. For that, Brown is extremely similar to Wilfork.
Brown still has a long way to go. His technique against the run needs a lot of work, but the problems are manageable. The two left guards in these examples were 2012 Pro Bowlers Incognito and Beadles- they're good players. Still, Brown needs to improve a long ways before he inspires fear in opposing offensive lines.
Brown offers a great palette for Bill Belichick to coach up into a quality player. He is definitely a great complement for the skill set of Dominique Easley, and both tackles should be impact players over the next four years. Brown just isn't quite there yet to be an impact player in the now- and that's fine. Neither was the rookie Wilfork.