Why does this feel like 2006 when the Seahawks lost Marcus Tubbs – a key interior defensive lineman – and about a million other guys to injury, sealing their fate as a post-Super Bowl season also-ran?
The Seahawks received some pretty bad news on Sunday during the win over the Giants when Brandon Mebane went out with a hamstring injury. It was ominous when he was immediately ruled out for the rest of the game, especially when you consider damn near everyone, every single game, goes out at one point or another with what appears to be a bad injury, only to return to the field moments later. And now we know why: Brandon Mebane is finished in 2014.
To be honest with you, I’m pretty sick to my stomach over this news. I never like to hear about ANYONE on the Seahawks being placed on the Injured Reserve, but it’s particularly devastating when it’s one of your favorite players. For me, there are players I like well enough, but if I had to pick my favorite five on the Seahawks right now, in no particular order, they’d be: Kam Chancellor, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Marshawn Lynch, and Mebane.
But, that list pales in comparison to the players that make this team tick. The heart & soul of the Seahawks. On offense, it’s obviously Marshawn Lynch. He’s the first guy anyone talks about when they talk about what we need to do on offense to succeed. Feed the Beast and all that. On defense, that falls on Mebane. He sets the tone. He’s the guy in there on base defense, lined up over center, consistently getting double-teamed and consistently pushing that double team into the backfield.
Brandon Mebane makes it possible for our outside rushers to face one-on-one blocking, thereby helping them get to the quarterback easier. Brandon Mebane makes it possible for our linebackers and the rest of the line to fill in the gaps on run plays. And, oh by the way, he also makes his share of plays in the backfield all by himself, even through those aforementioned constant double teams.
In 2014, the pass rush hasn’t been up to snuff compared to last year. We lost a few guys and their replacements have yet to really take command of their roles. As a result, the Seahawks have given up more third down conversions, yards, and points than they have the last couple years. And that’s with Mebane in there every game! I shudder to think about how bad we would’ve been without him!
Through 9 games, the Seahawks have the best run defense in football. The three teams who have given up fewer total yards have a combined 5 defeats on the season (meaning, their opponents are frequently throwing the ball to try to get back into games). On a per-rush basis, Denver is technically a small fraction better than the Seahawks, but again, we’re talking about 36 fewer rushing attempts.
My fear on this is that the Seahawks are going to decline dramatically in this area of their game.
Unlike the 2006 Seahawks, the 2014 version is actually talented on the defensive side of the ball. Those Seahawks were patched together from the start, relying on a high-scoring offense to succeed. THESE Seahawks seem better equipped to withstand some natural attrition. But, it might be different when it comes to Mebane.
See, there’s no one on the team quite like him. The next men up are Tony McDaniel and Kevin Williams. Both are older shells of their formerly dominant selves and I have a hard time believing that either one will manage to stay healthy for the duration. Beyond that, we’re talking about taller gentlemen who probably aren’t as adept at the nose tackle position compared to the 3-tech or 5-tech spots along the line. McDaniel and Williams are both better suited to be pass-rushing tackles; I HIGHLY doubt that either will be able to generate the consistent push play-in and play-out that Mebane was able to manage. The difference between a nose tackle in the backfield vs. a nose tackle getting no push or being pushed back is the difference between a negative rushing attempt and a huge gash in our defense. And, if we’ve got other guys on the defense trying to over-compensate for Mebane’s loss – instead of focusing on their jobs at hand – we could see some lopsided numbers coming from the other team’s offense.
I don’t want to make it sound like it’s all doom & gloom, but really it kind of is! Kansas City and San Francisco are both Top 10 rushing offenses. Philadelphia is only a year removed from being the #1 rushing offense in the NFL and they have most of the same pieces in place. Not only that, but they’ll likely still have Mark Sanchez in at quarterback, and in spite of what happened against Carolina last night, I still see them trying to rely on the run game a little more with him in there. Then, there’s Arizona, who’s really not a good rushing team, but they have one of the better young, up-and-coming running backs with Andre Ellington, and they too have an inexperienced backup quarterback leading the way; you have to think they’ll be looking to take some pressure off of him going forward as they try to steal the NFC West from its rightful owner.
Losing Brandon Mebane is NOT a domino any of us wanted to see fall. Things are looking mighty grim at the nose tackle spot. Although, to be fair, it’ll be interesting to see if someone will step up in his place. It’s been on my mind for years: who will eventually replace Mebane when he’s finished in this league? Jordan Hill is a name that comes to mind, as he was just drafted last year. He didn’t play much as a rookie, but he’s been a somewhat solid contributer this year. I like his hustle, but I wonder if he has the strength and the natural gifts of a Mebane. Demarcus Dobbs is another younger guy the Seahawks picked up recently (from the 49ers’ roster, naturally). He got his first run with us against the Giants and the coaches seem to like his makeup. We’ll see.
Going forward, what does this mean for Mebane? Next year is the final year of his contract. He’s set to count $5.7 million against the cap, which isn’t a bad number, considering his value to our defense. Assuming he’s able to make a full recovery, while not showing up completely out of shape, I would expect to see Mebane back on the team in 2015. And, depending on his level of play, and his ability to stay healthy next year, we could be looking at this hamstring issue as a minor bump in the road.
What Mebane has going for him is that this isn’t a knee. It’s not a shoulder or an ankle or a pec or a bicep or an elbow or a foot or any of these other body parts that seem to only get worse at an alarming rate once you injure them the first time. I don’t know a whole lot about hamstrings, but I’d be willing to bet this is more of a fluke-type injury than anything else, and one with a low frequency of recurrence, comparatively. Also, when you look back on Mebane’s career, you can’t say he’s “injury prone”; before this hamstring business, Mebane has played in 125 of a total of 130 possible games in his eight year career (including playoffs). Which, let me tell you, for a lineman is DAMN impressive. Given their weight, and the overall pounding their bodies take on an every-down basis, it’s almost unreasonable to expect someone like Mebane to have played in so many games without a really major injury.
Of course, the main thing going against him is his age and his service time in the league. Eight years seems like a long time for a Pete Carroll & John Schneider type of player. Mebane will be 30 in January, which makes him easily one of the oldest players on the team. I do like him to come back next year, but beyond that, it’s really going to depend on his level of play. I can’t imagine him maintaining his level of salary beyond 2015, nor can I imagine him getting anything more than a 1- or 2-year extension even if he DOES prove he’s back to his usual level of excellence.
The clock has always been ticking with Mebane, just as it’s ticking with every single other player in football. The only difference is, there was always less time on Mebane’s clock, even before this injury. My hope is, the hamstring doesn’t speed up his time left on this team too much. I’m not ready to quit the guy who has been our rock along the defensive line since the moment he put on a Seahawks uniform.
Even though his year is over, Get Well Soon, Mebane!