While Seattle managed to add some much needed depth at O-line and corner in April’s draft, interior pass remains a huge weakness on this team. For whatever reason, a growing number of people are convinced that the ‘Hawks are set at the two D-tackle positions with Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane, and thus, should retain Mebane. I am not so convinced. In fact, I see the interior D-line as Seattle’s weakest area outside of quarterback.
In recent months I’ve heard Mebane described with such expressions of praise as “great”, “a disruptive force”, a “up and coming star”, “Seattle’s best defensive player” and more. And I wish I could say that I’ve only heard such things from partial, bias fans who don’t take their football study much further than casual “viewership”, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case.
Not that Mebane is a bad player, or even sub-starting material. The guy just isn’t a good 3 Technique defensive tackle (Left D-Tackle). Unfortunately, for him, that’s the position he’s played for the last two seasons now, and the results have been less than impressive. In his second NFL season, Mebane totaled 5.5 sacks from the 1 Technique position (now manned by Colin Cole). Since moving to the 3 Technique spot, Mebane has totaled 2.5 sacks in 27 regular season starts.
Progress? I think not.
The demands on a 3 Technique tackle are that he possess a quick first step, show ability to penetrate, shed blocks and collapse the pocket among other things. He’s working a single gap, and is asked to be the play-making tackle of the two interior D-linemen (just as the weak-side DE is the play-maker of the two DEs). He absolutely has to put pressure on opposing QBs from the interior and disallow them to step up in the pocket.
The demands of a 1 Technique tackle (Right D-Tackle) are that he have vision to anticipate the run, strong lower body to anchor and hold at the point of attack, shed blocks and plug running lanes. He’s really there to fill space and clog the middle of the line, often taking on multiple blockers in order to create opportunities for linebackers and other linemen to make plays.
Brandon Mebane is, naturally, a 1 Technique defensive tackle. The tape tells the story. He possesses the wide, strong lower body you like to see from your run-stuffer, doesn’t get pushed off the line easily, can spot the ‘back and shed blockers to close the running lane. He also moves pretty well laterally on runs to the outside. What he doesn’t do well is rush the passer from the 3 Technique spot. He has inconsistent get-off, and has a tendency to come off the line a bit high rather than keeping his pads low to gain the necessary leverage for effective penetration. He’s not active enough in his upper body to rip blockers away or swim around them, and lacks a closing burst to finish plays on the QB.
In short, the Seahawks have two 1 Tech D-tackles in Cole and Mebane who, when applying Pete Carroll’s philosophy, should be competing against each other for that starting spot. If you really want to pay Mebane franchise player-like dollars to play a position that he may not even be the best on the team at, go right ahead. But I’m not buyin’. He should be paid like a good run-stuffing D-tackle, and not like a better-than-marginal 3 Technique tackle.
Now, my opinion is that Mebane is probably the better guy to start at the 1 Tech over Cole, as he has shown that he can generate a pass rush from that position which is pretty rare, so you’ll probably get more out of Mebane than the one-dimensional Cole. Cole would then naturally move to a rotational D-tackle who can come in with Mebane on running downs to form a nice tandem of run-stuffers. But moving Mebane from the 1 Tech to the 3 has not only hampered Seattle’s ability to adequately fill that 3 spot, but it has also made them less effective against the pass, from the 1 spot. They robbed Peter but never paid Paul.
The good news is, you now have some solid depth at the 1 Tech spot, which you didn’t have in 2010. So now, the attention must be turned to the 3 Tech spot.
To show how drastically inadequate Seattle was from an interior pass-rushing standpoint in 2010 let’s compare the interior D-tackle activity of the leagues top defenses to the bottom tier, and of course to the Seahawks specifically.
Let’s look strictly at sacks by interior linemen.
First, here are the sack totals by interior linemen only (rush ends not included) for the top 10 NFL Defenses in 2010 (Regular Season Totals)
1. SD – 13.5
2. PIT – 8.5
3. NYJ – 8.5
4. NO – 8.0
5. GB – 13.5
6. MIA – 10.5
7. NYG – 7.5
8. MIN – 3.5
9. CHI – 8.0
10. BAL – 9.5
AVG: 9.10 Sacks (Interior D-linemen)
Now, for a look at the Top 5 NFL Pass Defenses for 2010:
1. SD – 13.5
2. OAK – 15.0
3. BUF – 3.5
4. NO – 8.0
5. GB – 13.5
AVG: 10.7 Sacks (Interior D-linemen)
Now, for kicks, let’s look at the five lowest ranked passing defenses in the league:
28. JAX – 7.5
29. TEN – 3.5
30. NE – 16.5
31. WAS – 5.5
32. HOU – 5.0
Avg: 7.6 (Interior D-linemen)
Your Beloved Seahawks (27th in Total Defense, 27th in Passing Defense) : 2.0
NE certainly strengthens the average of the bottom group and both MIN and BUF seem to be the outliers in the first two groups, but otherwise there’s a pretty definitive difference between the top and bottom defenses, with regard to getting pressure on opposing QBs from the interior of the D-line.
With Seattle at 2.0 sacks, heck, let’s throw the strong-side defensive end (LDE) into the mix too, and call it 3.0 (Red Bryant had 1 sack in 7 starts, while Kentwan Balmer and Jay Richardson combined for 0.0 sacks after Bryant went down with injury), there’s clearly a huge pass-rushing deficiency in the middle of the D-line, and the ‘Hawks would do themselves well to realize now that Mebane is not the answer.
It’s great to get 20 sacks out of two edge rushers (Clemons and Brock), but there is a clear difference between a hit-or-miss speed presence off the edge and a constant, consistent disruptive force from the inside that effects a QBs ability to step up and see the field.
Brandon Mebane is not irreplaceable. Not even close. And he’s certainly not worth elite-level money as a 3 Technique lineman. Of course, if you pay big just to move him to the 1 Tech, then you’ve got a salary problem with both he and Cole getting pretty decent dollar to compete for one spot that isn’t as tough to find adequate talent for.
My gut, and the tape, suggest that Seattle will have it’s struggles this year in generating consistent QB pressure unless they’re able to pull off a trade for a top interior rusher. Free Agency (when it finally opens) isn’t exactly loaded with top tier rushing D-tackles, and current roster depth (or lack thereof) offers little in the way of hope unless Balmer is somehow able to make a leap toward resembling the disruptive lineman that the ‘Niners thought he would be when they took him in the first round. Looking closely, however, that may be a bit optimistic.