By Nick Shook
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Twelve-year veteran Duane Brown spent much of the first half of the 2017 season at home, away from the Houston Texans as he held out for a new contract.
That might seem a tad extreme for a player who’s in the back end of his career, but Brown has been an effective left tackle for the Texans for more than a decade. You don’t make it into the double digits in seasons played without being good at what you do.
When Brown returned from his prolonged holdout in Week 8, he was a welcome addition to an offensive line that needed him. The Texans immediately inserted Brown into the starting lineup at left tackle, replacing Chris Clark at the position. Houston saw an instant improvement to its offensive line play as a result, which quarterback Deshaun Watson surely was happy to see.
That is, until Houston traded Brown to the Seattle Seahawks a day later.
The Texans dealt Brown, who was reportedly unhappy with Houston’s management, to Seattle for 2018 third- and fifth-round picks and a 2019 second-rounder. Cornerback Jeremy Lane was initially included in the trade, but failed his physical.
So what is Seattle getting in Brown, for whom they dealt multiple draft picks in an attempt to bolster a line with a clear need?
With the Texans playing against the Seahawks in Week 8, Seattle received a great look at who it eventually acquired. Brown began the game with a solid first series, blocking without error in the run game and protecting Watson well enough for the rookie to launch a 57-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller to cap the first drive.
Houston’s second drive didn’t end with the same success. On a third-and-10, Watson forced a pass into the middle of the field, where it was intercepted by Earl Thomas and returned for a touchdown. Despite the interception, Brown did his job well in taking on a rusher, giving a little ground and then standing firm, stopping veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney in his tracks.
Where Brown fits in Seattle’s offense is simple: He’ll replace left tackle Rees Odhiambo, who was filling in for George Fant, who was lost for the season to an ACL injury. Brown is an instant upgrade over Odhiambo, who does a decent job in some situations, but his small mistakes hurt Seattle’s already-struggling run game.
On a zone read, Odhiambo leaves the read man, Jadeveon Clowney, unblocked as designed, but when he down blocks on Christian Covington, he fails to maintain his block, allowing Covington to slip free and make the tackle in what should have been a running lane for J.D. McKissic.
This is something Brown will immediately improve. Unlike Odhiambo, Brown sustains the majority of these blocks.
As demonstrated above, Brown also sustains pass blocks against edge rushers. Sure, Freeney isn’t in his prime anymore, but he’ll be remembered as one of the best pass rushers of his era. Brown stymies his attempt to reach Watson, but in a similar situation, Odhiambo can’t keep Clowney from reaching Russell Wilson for what was a strip sack.
In a stroke of luck, Seattle recovered what was ruled (upon review) to be a fumble, which resulted in a first down. More often than not, these types of plays result in disaster.
Odhiambo’s biggest problem is an inability to sustain blocks beyond a second and a half when running the ball. This simply isn’t long enough to allow running plays to develop, and speaks loudly to why the Seahawks can’t run the ball.
It takes less than a half of film review to see why Seattle made this move. Brown solidifies a position that was anything but reliable before his arrival. This means Seattle’s chances for a more balanced offense are significantly improved, which also offers a massive boost to the Seahawks‘ viability as a competitive team in the NFC race.
Sure, Wilson’s mobility allows him to escape the pocket and extend plays with his feet — as evidenced by his touchdown pass to Paul Richardson, which would have resulted in a sack with blame centered on Odhiambo if Wilson was more of a traditional, pocket-bound passer — but a more reliable blind-side protector can go a long way toward building a team’s success.
Seattle may have traded a pretty large package of picks, but if the Seahawks take advantage of improved play from their line thanks to Brown, it will all be worth it.