The Seattle Seahawks' secondary is whole again now that cornerback Brandon Browner, a Pro Bowl choice one year ago, has returned from a four-game suspension in time for the team's wild-card playoff game against the Washington Redskins on Sunday.
Play-Action on Early Downs
Fellow starter Richard Sherman continued to play nearly all the defensive snaps without Browner. Cornerbacks Marcus Trufant, Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell each played about half the snaps against St. Louis in Week 17.
The assumption is that Browner will resume his role as an every-down player opposite Sherman. How frequently the Redskins use more than two wide receivers will influence how much Trufant and/or the others play Sunday.
The Redskins used three or more wide receivers about 40 percent of the time on first and second downs this season, right around the NFL average, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The rate fell to about 33 percent over the past five weeks. I singled out early downs because most teams use three or more receivers on third down regardless of offensive philosophy.
Play-action tactics could influence the outcome Sunday.
Washington has used play-action 175 times on early downs, most in the NFL. Seattle ranks fourth with 150.
The Redskins have a league-high 12 receptions for 30-plus yards on these plays. Their 1,817 yards passing on these plays leads the NFL by more than 400 yards. The corresponding numbers produce a No. 2 ranking in NFL passer rating (118.9) and No. 5 ranking in Total QBR (87.7).
The Redskins' Pierre Garcon and Leonard Hankerson rank among the NFL's top eight in play-action receiving yards on early downs -- even though Garcon missed six games to injury. Teammate Joshua Morgan ranks 20th.
Garcon has 18 receptions for 445 yards and three touchdowns on these plays. That works out to 24.7 yards per catch. Hankerson has 13 catches for 338 yards and two scores in these situations. His average is 26 yards per catch. The corresponding numbers for Morgan include 17 catches for 262 yards and no scores.
Browner plays aggressively. He's a good tackler and can force fumbles. Aggressive play can lead to aggressive mistakes, however.
Seattle's defense has allowed 7.9 yards per pass attempt with five touchdowns, three interceptions, an 88.4 NFL passer rating and 74.2 Total QBR score against play-action attempts on early downs. The passer rating allowed ranks 13th. The QBR score allowed ranks 17th.
That will be one area to watch Sunday. I offer relate thoughts in the video atop this item.
On a side note, Seattle's Sidney Rice ranks 10th in play-action receiving yards on early downs. He has 16 receptions for 303 yards and four touchdowns in these situations.