Mebane, No Gain.
In this post, I wanted to take a break from analyzing players in their rookie season. I wasn’t really sure exactly where I wanted to go with this article, so I just spent much of my “film time” this week going through all the games, and seeing what stood out to me. On this week, and well, almost every week, it was the Seattle Seahawks defense. Now, we’ve all had it forced down our throats recently just how good this unit is. The praise is well deserved. I’m not going to be talking about the recently made popular “Legion of Boom” defensive backfield of Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Brandon Browner, and Richard Sherman like you may be expecting. I’m not even going to feed you more on how big of a Bruce Irvin fan I am.
What I do want to do is give recognition to DT Brandon Mebane. I’m not sure if he and Red Bryant have some kind of nickname for themselves, but they are every bit as critical to the workings of the Seattle D as that vaunted defensive backfield is. I think Red Bryant started to get his proper credit last year. One example of this is when he was named to the Pro Football Weekly All-Underrated Team. So now that everyone’s been getting their proper credit, it’s time to give it Brandon Mebane, who in my opinion, has been the best defender on the Seahawks this year.
The 6’1 311 pound 6th year NT from California has already notched 15 tackles and 2 sacks this year. While pass rushing is far from his forte, he does showcase the ability to push the pocket and hurry the QB. However, what makes Mebane special in my eyes is his ability as a run defender. Pictured below is his typical alignment in the Seattle defense:
Mebane is the slanted/shaded NT in this defense. Here’s how Head Coach Pete Carroll describes the position in his defense:
“The nose tackle plays in the A gap to the tight end side of the field in our defense. We have done a number of things with this position based upon the opposition at times. We have put him right in the A gap, we have cocked him on the center at times, and as needed we have even played him in a direct shade technique right over the center at times. The way we play him on base defense is as an inside-foot to outside-foot alignment or a 1 technique on the center to the strong side of the alignment.”
“At Nose Tackle you have to find a player who likes to mix it up. We want a big guy in there who likes to get down and dirty. He is going to get doubled a lot on the run and pass and is going to get down blocked a lot. He has to be a tough player. This guy can be a short and stubby type of player.
Needless to say, Mebane is an ideal fit. Partially due to his stout build, he is very tough to move off the ball. To truly be an elite defender though, you must have the ability to do more than just hold the point. You must either make a play on the ball carrier or have the ability to disrupt the play. In Seattle’s most recent game vs. the St. Louis Rams, Mebane was able to frustrate Stephen Jackson on several different occasions. The first example comes from the Rams’ second play from scrimmage. The play starts off with the center sliding over in an attempt to handle Mebane. In reacting to this, Mebane is able to stand him up and hold his position while moving towards where the hand off indicates Jackson will be going:
As I just mentioned before, being an elite run defender is more than just holding the point and not allowing linemen to get to the second level. Mebane works a vicious swim move to get the blocker off of him. While S-Jax is attempting to find a cut back lane, Mebane will engulf him:
However, being a nose tackle isn’t always about making plays. Quite frankly, there are times when it’s almost impossible. As Carroll said, sometimes it’s just about doing the dirty work to allow your teammates to look good. Below we will see Mebane take on a double team:
In situations like the one above, it’s unlikely that the defensive tackle is going to be able to make a play. Once again, we have a marker that separates good and great. Good run defenders don’t give up ground. Great run defenders take ground. The latter is exactly what we see from Mebane:
Thanks to this push by Mebane, Jackson is forced to bounce this carry a hole wider than he wanted to. Then, we see a part of the beauty of the Seattle defense that makes it so impressive. The flow to the ball. While Mebane won’t actually make the main play here (he will still get an assisted tackle though), his play allowed for his teammates to run to the ball and make a play.
While all of the Seattle defense is certainly worthy of the praise and attention they have been getting, it’s time to give Mebane his love as well. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s a “43 NT” as opposed to the classic 34 nose tackles we hear about, but whatever the case may be, he’s being undersold. Because not only is Mebane a great run defender, but he’s a vital piece to this Seattle defense everyone loves.