Mayhem in the middle

Posted Dec 29, 2011

Quietly, but disruptively, Seahawks nose tackle Brandon Mebane has produced more tackles this season than any interior lineman in the NFC.

Here’s a little secret about a not-so-little piece of the Seahawks’ defensive puzzle: Brandon Mebane has more tackles than any interior lineman in the NFC.

It’s just that the plays the wide-bodied nose tackle makes are usually hard to see. Because of what he does and where he does it, it’s often difficult to tell – and even more difficult to see – what he’s doing. Even on the slow-motion TV replays.

But Todd Wash has seen each and every one of Mebane’s 54 tackles, repeatedly, as the Seahawks’ first-year defensive line coach breaks down the video with the other coaches and then his linemen.

“We tease him about being 6-foot,” Wash said. Tall or wide? “Both,” Wash said with a laugh.

“But what he does is, he has such a good low center of gravity, when he gets double-teamed he doesn’t get movement,” Wash said. “And our linebackers are doing a good job of pressing the line of scrimmage, so when they come off he’s just right in his gap making the play.”  


Brandon Mebane leads all interior linemen in the NFC in tackles, and is tied for fifth in the league. Here’s how the Seahawks’ nose tackle stacks up against the other tackling D-tackles:

Player, TeamTotalSoloAsst.
DT Ahtyba Rubin, Browns 74 48 25
DT Domato Peko, Bengals 60 31 29
DT Phil Taylor, Browns 57 36 21
NT Sione Pouha, Jets 55 38 17
NT Brandon Mebane, Seahawks 54 38 16
NT Antonio Garay, Chargers 54 34 20
DT Vince Wilfork, Patriots 49 28 21
DT Linval Joseph, Giants 48 33 15

The best way to put it is that Mebane makes a habit of making piles, with the ball carrier on the bottom and Mebane on top of him. There also are a couple of teammates, as well as a would-be blocker or two, in this mass of oversized humanity – protruding at various angles and attached from various directions.

Wash smiles when that picture is painted and then offers, “It usually is in big glob of bodies. So it’s hard to see.”

But entering Sunday’s season finale against the Arizona Cardinals, it’s also hard to overlook Mebane’s contributions to the Seahawks’ ninth-ranked defense. The move of Mebane from the three-technique tackle spot he played the past few seasons to nose tackle has been one of the better fits as coach Pete Carroll and coordinator Gus Bradley have pieced this defensive together.

As stout as the unit was when opponents attempted to run up the guy on the Seahawks earlier in the season, it forced other to test the perimeter.  But they’ve found that while you can run away from Mebane, you can’t take him completely out of the play.

“What we’re seeing now is, he’s really playing sideline to sideline,” Wash said. “You see a lot of chase-tackles, plays that you don’t see from a lot of other nose guards in the league, because Brandon is just such a good athlete.”

Part of Mebane’s toiling-in-relative-obscurity situation stems from the fact that ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant have been so flamboyant this season. Clemons has tied his career-high with 11 sacks, while Bryant has intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown – in addition to blocking four kicks on special teams. Then there’s the secondary, where free safety Earl Thomas has been voted to the Pro Bowl and strong safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Brandon Browner are first alternates.

“Not a lot of people talk about him,” Bradley said, sounding pleased that someone had at least asked about Mebane. “You hear a lot about Red Bryant and all these guys, but ‘Bang’ is a big part of it up front because at times he controls two guys at the line of scrimmage and that brings up the linebackers.

“So the move for him from three-technique (tackle) to nose guard, it’s been a big move for us. It’s been really, really good.”

Controls two guys? At times, Mebane dominates those double-team blocks, or uses his quickness to be a disruptive force by splitting the blockers.

“‘Bang’ doesn’t get a lot of credit. But to me, ‘Bang’ is by far one of the best defensive tackles in the league,” Clemons said. “When you get a guy that explosive and that disruptive who can just disrupt the whole flow of offense, what more can you ask for from a defensive tackle? You never see ‘Bang’ get blown off the ball. You never see ‘Bang’ get thrown out of his gap. ‘Bang’ is always making plays in the backfield.”

Wash agrees, offering, “Realistically, all season long, you can probably count how many times he’s been moved on one hand.”

And no one is more appreciative of the bang-bang plays turned in by the player his teammates call “Bang-Bang” – or just “Bang” – than middle linebacker David Hawthorne, who has surpassed 100 tackles for the third consecutive season in large part because of the mayhem Mebane creates in front of him.

“This year?” Hawthorne said when asked about Mebane’s 2011 contributions. “It should be the job he does every year. He’s doing it from a different spot, but he’s been the same guy for as long as I’ve known him. He’s an explosive guy that the offensive linemen have trouble with. His leverage is ridiculous. His explosiveness is obviously unmatched by a lot of people. He just comes to work and comes to play every day.

“The things he does might not show up statistically, but never do they go unnoticed.”

And what does Mebane think about all this? Sitting in front of his cubicle in the locker room, the 311-pound Mebane is as quiet as his play is boisterous on game days. It’s almost like you hate to disrupt this rare moment of serenity for a player who creates so much commotion on the field.

“I’m just doing my job, like everybody else on the defense has been doing their jobs,” Mebane said. “It’s just that when the D-line has success, it makes it easy for everything else to fall into place and the big plays come.

“Making a team one-dimensional is a good thing. That’s a real big key factor that we focus on.”

Take it from a guy who does most of his dirty work in a pile of other players.