Forced Double Teams: 18
Broken Tackles: 2
*Includes all games minus Week 10, Divisional Round and the second half of Week 3 and the first half of week 1.
Brandon Mebane has earned more plays and perhaps a start. He absolutely blows back the opposing linemen. If he were out there more often I think teams would be forced to double him. A lineman that forces the double team would be a real boon to this rush defense. A defense that looked overmatched versus Ken Whisenhunt's power running scheme. The man in front of Mebane, Chartric Darby, was all but invisible in the first half.
Brandon Mebane got two looks with the first team unit in the second half, and I am happy to report he rocked. The very first play of the second half he rips into the backfield, Drew Brees stepped up and delivered a pass to the seemingly uncovered Lance Moore. Kelly Jennings is playing soft off the receiver, so he doesn't really blow the coverage as much as simply allow the reception. Grrr. Sixth play, same drive, second and twelve after Tatupu hammers Bush for a loss on first, Mebane gets penetration and then chases down Bush for a minimal gain. Mebane is surprisingly quick. That's a nice little opener, and more than we've seen from Darby in weeks, but Mebane gets better. Mebane records another penetration, still being single blocked, on the second play of the Saints' second drive. He blows the tackle, but by rule a blown tackle by a lineman against a run play is not such a calamity, Bush is staggered and Darryl Tapp cleans up. Two yard gain.
Zoom to the second drive of the Mebane era. First play, Mebane is playing over the center like a true nose tackle, Jeff Faine hits him but gets no push, Jamar Nesbit adjusts, chips Mebane still getting no push, this disrupts the play, Nesbit never gets to the second level, the Hawks linebackers close in, Mebane sheds Faine and tackles Bush for a two yard gain. Next play, this time New Orleans is keying Mebane, putting both a guard and center on him from the onset, Mebane splits the double team and tackles Bush for a two yard loss.
Will Mebane be able to keep this up? I don't know, but I would be astounded if he doesn't outplay Darby. Mebane also adds some badly needed pass rush.
On the very first play of the game Brandon Mebane broke into the Rams' backfield and tackled Brian Leonard for no gain. Mebane wouldn't record another solo tackle for the remainder of the contest, but his impact is visible in the Rams inability to run up the middle and through the contributions of his line mates.
Let's start with runs up the middle. Saint Louis averages 4.33 adjusted line yards on runs up the middle for the season. That's fifteenth in all of football. Their total for Sunday was 1.33 yards per rush on runs up the middle. That's three rushes for negative yardage, four more for 0 to 3 yards, one 12 yard rush and one 14 yard rush. I don't have the resources to adjust for strength of opponent, but Seattle ranks 16th in adjusted line yards allowed for runs up the middle, 4.16, so it's more or less a push. In other words, Seattle absolutely dominated the Rams ground game on rushes up the middle. Nine rushes is not an overwhelming sample size, but bare in mind that adjusted line yards is less susceptible to wild fluctuations. The most any one run can contribute is 7 yards, 4 for the initial 4 yards and three more for the remaining 6 yards. After that it's no longer counted. Even if the Rams exploded through the middle for a pair of 50 yard gains on Sunday, their adjusted line yards would only equal 2.36.
The other way to interpret Mebane's impact is through the feats of his adjacent line mates. Rocky Bernard, Craig Terrill and Darryl Tapp combined for 10 penetrations, 3 sacks, 3 runs stopped for no gain or loss and 2 forced incompletions. Tapp and Terrill are both undersized players with lightning first steps, for them to succeed they need someone between them that can take on multiple blockers. On the very first play of the game Mebane served notice, Andy McCollum will not be able to block me alone. It's too early to christen Mebane as true successor to Marcus Tubbs, but he certainly laid to rest any nostalgia for Chartric Darby.
On to good stuff. The Hawks put the clamp down on the Bears rushing attack. That all starts with the Great Immovable Mebane. Grim is a flurry of spins and shrugs , plus his amazing low center of gravity and explosiveness off the snap give him leverage on nearly every play. What's better is that he's quick enough that when single covered he's a penetrative force. In the first quarter, to take a chronological step back, he literally shrugged off Terrence Metcalf and stopped Benson after just one yard. Grim is a rookie third rounder, just 22 - that's draft value.
For aspiring offensive coordinators curious as to why you don't single block Brandon Mebane, the Cards' third series of the quarter might be constructive. First play Bane walks Reggie Wells back to Warner, pushes him right and out of the way, sacks Warner and then, uh, curtsies. Now second and fourteen, Whisenhunt attempts to run Edge up the left "A" gap. The Cards double Rocky Bernard, but Edge finds a dent with a pair of arms where his hole should be. That forces James to cut back right, and right into Rocky Bernard. You can't blame Arizona for doubling Rocky - but then, who's gonna double Mebane? After a Julian Peterson Neutral Zone Infraction, it's 3rd and 7. The Cards align w/ Trips left, a single WR tight right, a single back and Warner in shotgun. Rock's been subbed out for Craig Terrill. The Hawks run a stunt that has Terrill and Mebane converging against the Cards three interior linemen. That's not what you're looking for from a stunt. Mebane shades behind the more aggressive Terrill, Terrill falls between his double team, and then, from the scrum, Mebane comes unblocked around the right side and forces Warner to dump the ball off to Leonard Pope short of the first down. Not a play for the highlight reel, sure, but Bane doesn't quit, and when an opening arrives he delivers the critical pressure to force Warner to check down.
Before he was Bane, he was Brandon Mebane, third round pick, Seattle Seahawks. I wasn't thrilled about Mebane's selection. This was before I knew how to find tape on guys and instead attempted to piece together something intelligible from scouting reports and combine numbers. A mistake I'll never repeat. By preseason's end, it was clear how wrong I was. Tim Ruskell had once again unearthed something special in the third. Bane is the perfect combination of strength, leverage, motor and quickness for Seattle's system. And only recently 23. He's not the type you expect to "break out", but with little more than incremental growth from now until 2010, when he turns 25, he will become a top 10 defensive tackle for 3-5 years to come.