No one would argue that the New England Patriots defense has been superior to the Seattle Seahawks defense over the past five years. The Seahawks vaunted defense ranks 1st in points allowed (16.5 PPG, more than 2 points per game better than the 2nd place 49ers) and yards allowed (294.2 YPG) over the past five seasons.
The Patriots rank a respectable 6th in points allowed (20.5 PPG), but a laughable 30th in yards allowed (368.2 YPG, ahead of only the Giants and Saints).
And yet it would appear that the Seahawks are looking to the Patriots defense for inspiration after signing for Patriots (and Seahawks) cornerback Brandon Browner.
The Seahawks watched the Patriots put Browner in coverage of tight ends like then-Colts target Coby Fleener and also against Seahawks tight end Luke Willson in the Super Bowl and thought maybe we should do that!
"I had the chance to see him [Browner] play in positions like he’s being asked to play now [in the box] when he was in New England," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said, via ESPN. "And we saw some really good things we thought we could mix into our stuff, and he’s very much looked the part. "
Of course, Fleener racked up 144 yards on 7 receptions in that game against Browner, but we're starting to see a rise in defenses using athletic or larger cornerbacks on the inside at the more physically imposing tight ends, and the Patriots get a front row seat every week.
The Cowboys used Byron Jones to cover Rob Gronkowski, while the Broncos used Aqib Talib at times. The Patriots use Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung to cover opposing tight ends.
Historically, teams would ask linebackers to cover tight ends, but the rise in athletic tight ends have required defenses to adjust with players better suited for coverage. Teams around the league are looking for hybrid players that can both help against the run and drop into coverage and the Seahawks think they might have one in Browner.
Browner, to his credit, seems excited about the opportunity.
"I love it," Browner said. "It’s kind of similar to some of the things I did in New England. I’ll be matched up on guys that fit my size, be in there on the run a little bit. It’ll show my skill set a little bit."
The Patriots have been ahead of the curve, spending 83.5% of their time with five defensive backs on the field in 2015, and it wouldn't be strange to see more teams around the league copying the Patriots tactics.
It will be up to head coach Bill Belichick to find ways to stay ahead of the competition.