Brandon Mebane versus Jacob Bell
In one offseason, Jacob Bell morphed from the perfect NFL guard to the embodiment of bad management. And all it took was $36 million dollars. Bell was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the fifth round of the 2004 NFL Draft. He started 15 games his first season but struggled, allowing 5.25 sacks. He sat most of his second season, but was back in the lineup fulltime in 2006 and 2007. Bell allowed 3 sacks combined over 31 games. A hair under 6'5", rangy and athletic, Bell is an excellent pass blocker. Bell combines an active and accurate slide step with a jarring push to ward off pass rushers. He's also a skilled pull blocker. Bell takes efficient lines to the second level and knows how to adjust to engage a free defender.
For Bell to succeed as a pass blocker, he must keep the defender from getting inside his arms and into his body. That starts with winning body position off the snap. For Brandon Mebane to succeed as a pass rusher, he must continue his improved quickness off the snap, get under and between single and double blocks, respectively, and shorten his routes to the quarterback. That split second off the snap is high noon for Bell and Bane. When Bell wins, he'll be able to set up, slide out or pull and contain or avoid Mebane. When Mebane wins, he'll stagger, drive back or drop Bell and become a disruptive or destructive force in the middle. Against San Francisco, Mebane keyed Eric Heitmann's helmet, anticipated the snap and got impressive and consistent push, pressure and penetration through four quarters, but by overtime, the Heitmann adjusted, delayed the snap a second and forced Mebane into an offside penalty. The Mebane of the first four quarters will win this matchup, but if hesitancy or opponent-adjustment slows him off the snap, Bell has the skill, size and athleticism to minimize Mebane's contributions.
Floyd Womack versus La'Roi Glover
This is the classic example of youth versus greatness. In 2000, Glover played right tackle for a Saints defensive line that recorded 43 sacks. Glover had 17. In 2000, Womack only dreamed of the "can play any position but center" canard that would keep him in the league for eight seasons. But while Glover is 34, Womack is nearly 30. Those four years can mean all the difference.
Womack, for all his inadequacies and injuries, has one truly good skill: footwork. Womack is not real strong, lacks endurance and gets little pop off his blocks. He's a tie up or lose blocker that lives with the defender in his grill, but in a phone booth and in the second level, Womack keeps his feet under him and his shoulders square. That's not much, but it could be enough.
Glover is no longer the manic three tech, playmaking tackle of his youth. He's no longer as quick off the snap or elusive at the point. But like many once talented still skilled defensive linemen, his hand fighting and foot work are still top notch, and he can occasionally surprise with his power. No longer a game changer alone, Glover is still an above average tackle of similar contributions and ability as Rocky Bernard.
Glover is integral to Jim Haslett's blitzing. In 2007, Saint Louis' leading blitzer was middle linebacker Will Witherspoon. He led the Rams with seven sacks. After Buffalo walloped Seattle through its "A" gaps, a non-batshit defensive coordinator is likely to try to do likewise. The Rams, ever so coincidentally, are strongest up the middle. Witherspoon, Glover and Adam Carriker comprise a fearsome middle rush on an otherwise shaky defense.
Maurice Morris' injury keeps Julius Jones playing and Matt Hasselbeck upright, but even Jones can't stop two free defenders. Womack doesn't need to beat Glover or force him back, but he must contain Glover and not allow him to get free. Jones can block out Witherspoon, but not Glover and certainly not Witherspoon and Glover. Hasselbeck had great time in the pocket against San Francisco, but let's not fool ourselves. Nolan's nickel scheme depended on pressure from three 3-4 linemen with a combined four sacks in 112 games played, plus past his prime defensive end Justin Smith. Seattle's offensive line has good pass blocking potential, but last Sunday proved nothing. This Sunday is a fiercer test. If Womack struggles, and Glover gets consistent push and separation, not only will Seattle's passing attack suffer, but it could be a foreboding portrait of Seattle's season to come.