The most thankless position in football; the most unnoticed position in football, except when your team can't stop the run; and, the most missed as key to pass rush success, is the defensive tackle. A lot of times, DT's jobs are just to plug gaps and be immovable. Tackles and sacks cannot really measure how much they mean either. I actually started one of many early battles here on Field Gulls telling everyone who thought the Seahawks should shell out $9 million a year to Brandon Mebane that they were foolish. (I was foolish too in the argument), but, at the time, the Seahawks had no one that could really push the pocket on passing downs.
While everyone spent energy waiting for the day that Daryl Tapp would explode onto the scene as an elite rusher, I kept looking at how easy it was for the opposing guards to build quality pockets unopposed and saying to myself, "God, if we could just push a guard back into his line of sight, a rush might be more successful." I read the over-hype of Brandon Mebane's run stuffing and scoffed at how foolish people were being.
A peaking Rocky Bernard and Bryce Fisher led an 88-sack two-year stretch for Seattle. The Seahawks didn't have any of the secondary players it features now outside of Marcus Trufant. Safeties that lacked discipline lead to many long bombs, but despite that, the Seahawks in 2005 and 2006 had just under 90 sacks. How? Sit down and watch: it was amazing how often the middle of that defensive line twisted guards; and how Rocky brought late pressure and forced double teams, giving defensive ends one-on-ones and in 2006, sending Julian Petersen to the Pro Bowl after a 10-sack season.
But here's a great stat for you: In Seattle's 47-sack season in 2005, the defensive line, as a unit, recorded 32.5 sacks.
The defensive tackles alone recorded 18.5 of those sacks with both Marcus Tubbs and Rocky Bernard recording 14 sacks combined. Why do I bring these numbers up? Because you can see where the majority of the pressure was coming from in that d-line unit and Tubbs, although not a pass rusher by trade, got singled up enough with Rocky's quality burst that he got opportunities to record sacks. Bryce Fisher had 9 sacks that year and was given one-on-one opportunities more as teams tried to compensate for Rocky's burst off the snap and shredding of their guards.
In 2006, however, the team watched Marcus Tubbs suffer a knee injury that would end his season five weeks into the year, an injury that would repeat itself in his other knee and end his promising career. With this huge loss, the Seahawks' pass rush recorded only 41 sacks. The defensive tackle unit recorded only 10.5 sacks and a rotation of Chuck Darby and Russell Davis was unable to stuff the run in the same way as Marcus Tubbs was able to.
The numbers across the d-line were down to just 20.5 sacks, with 10 of the the other 20.5 recorded by Julian Petersen alone. Showing that many times, the Seahawks had to gamble just to get home. What I learned in really looking at the rush issues the Seahawks had following that success was -- it was important, particularly, to have guys inside that can collapse the pocket.
How many times have we heard: "If you can get pressure into his face his accuracy falls" or any number of relatable theories? It goes beyond the numbers though. The numbers just help paint the picture.
I listed, in my greatest Seahawk duos of all time, Joe Nash and Jacob Green. I did so for a very good reason: Jacob Green was talented as all get out, but he was routinely doubled and sometimes even triple teamed by offenses. This made sacks impossible most of the time. However, when Joe Nash was added and they began to play together over a period of games, their ability to time rushes and just feed into each others energy became a key feature of the Knox defenses that had some of the bigger sack totals in the NFL in that era.
Crotez Kennedy was an elite defensive tackle and his rush skills strength and relentless play allowed Michael Sinclair to become one of the better pass rushers in the game because the LT couldn't afford to swing too wide without fear that Cortez would shove his man aside, as he did so many times, and smash the QB into jelly.
Think of the DT as the #4 hitter in baseball, he may not even have the best power numbers (or in this case, sack numbers), but he can drive the ball and hit for a quality average, protecting the guy ahead of him and allowing the guy behind him to take a few more swings for the fences.
Over the course of the last three years, Pete Carroll and John Schneider have made a push to improve this particular corps of players with the signing of Alan Branch, Clinton McDonald, Jason Jones, Jaye Howard, & Greg Scruggs to play next to a stout run stuffer in Brandon Mebane.
When I watched Alan Branch, I saw some ability to collapse the pocket, but he lacked the stamina to play a prominent role as a pass rusher for more than about a quarter and a half. I watched him knock around the Cards last year and play well against the 49ers as well, in spots, when I broke down the games. I just thought he needed help, and I had hoped he would be spelled by a maturing Clinton McDonald.
That was until someone threw the name Jason Jones at me. Jason Jones shows a lot of that burst Rocky had, but with a bit more size and leverage it becomes more explosive, and there have been a few times where I'm sure opposing quarterbacks have been smelling their guard's aftershave.
We've also seen, with a new player to spell Branch and draw doubles away from Mebane, that even 'Bane can get a few pressures on the QB and that's exciting.
I used the line that Reggie Jackson once famously uttered in the title of this article, to reference how he viewed himself as key to their offense, because I believe that defensive tackles are the straw that stirs the pressure shake, and if you have the right recipe inside, the only way to go is up.