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Saints' failure with Brandon Browner a 'perfect storm' of bad defense

Brandon Browner's struggles reached a historic level in his one and only season with the New Orleans Saints last year.

But the way coach Sean Payton explained it last week, the veteran cornerback wasn’t the only one to blame.

“You know, I asked the same question. Look, this guy just won a Super Bowl in [New England],” Payton said during the NFL owners meetings, when he was asked why things didn’t work out with Browner after he signed a three-year, $15 million contract.

“I think there’s a handful of reasons. I think we weren’t good enough overall as a defense,” said Payton, who specifically mentioned the defensive front, the pass rush and some missed assignments in coverage by linebackers that may have looked to the untrained eye like Browner was to blame.

“It’s that perfect storm,” Payton said. “And the surrounding parts for us weren’t as strong as they needed to be.”

Browner, however, did earn plenty of blame himself, which led to his release last month after just one miserable season.

The physical 6-foot-4, 221-pounder was flagged for 24 penalties (21 accepted), which was the most by any player in a single season since at least 2001, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Browner, 31, was also burned deep way too often for a defense that shattered NFL records for touchdown passes allowed (45) and opponents’ quarterback rating (116.1). He also had some run-ins with the media and drew heavy criticism for pursuing an unnecessary crack-back block instead of a tackle on one occasion.

By the end of the season, Browner was being booed by the home crowd during pregame introductions.

Some of that stuff was particularly disappointing since Browner was signed in large part to be a veteran leader with championship experience from both New England and Seattle. Early on, Browner drew praise for that leadership and was elected as a team captain by teammates.

“For us to have had success, one of those things last year defensively was for him to have played well and us to have given him a chance to play well. Because he’s a leader that’s wanting to lead,” Payton said. “And it’s hard when you’re becoming a target, it’s hard to do that.

“But I think there were a lot of hands in that specifically. No different than the quarterback that’s not getting the time [in the pocket to scan the field and throw].”

The Saints’ coaches deserve their own share of blame.

Browner’s skill set is no secret. He’s a physical press corner without great speed. He is much better disrupting bigger receivers at the line than he is running down the field with smaller, faster receivers.

Sure enough, Browner had a couple of great games when he was matched up in press coverage against top receivers like Calvin Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, with a safety shadowing him from behind.

But the Saints didn’t use Browner that way very much -- and he was far too often exposed deep down the field. That was the case under defensive coordinators Rob Ryan and Dennis Allen alike.

“It was important as a coach you kind of have a vision of how you want something to unfold, you’ve gotta let that happen,” Payton said.

It was unclear if Payton meant that he was disappointed by Browner’s usage. But when asked if Browner’s role or the vision for him changed after fellow starting cornerback Keenan Lewis got injured during the preseason, Payton said no.

“I think we always felt [Browner] could come inside and play over a tight end on third down. We’ve seen him do that at a couple places,” said Payton, who said if Lewis stayed healthy, the harder decision would have been trying to figure out how to get first-year sensation Delvin Breaux into the rotation as much as possible.

“That was the surprise,” Payton said of Breaux’s emergence after migrating from the Canadian Football League.

If Lewis returns to form this year, the Saints should be in much better shape at cornerback.