When you do what he does where he does it – in a mangled mass of other massive bodies – it’s sometimes difficult to tell just how well Brandon Mebane is playing.
There are the statistics, of course. Last season, the Seahawks’ nose tackle had more tackles (56) than any other interior lineman in the NFC. In 2008, his second season with the team, he even produced 5.5 sacks, and then collected a pair in the Seahawks’ eight-sack barrage in the first half of Monday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers – pushing his tackle total to 10, which is tops among the club’s linemen.
But is Mebane playing as well as it appears for a defense that ranks No. 4 in the league and a team that is 2-1 entering Sunday’s divisional game against the Rams in St. Louis?
“Yeah, he is,” line coach Todd Wash said. “He’s playing very well. He does a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage. He plays with great effort. He’s a sideline-to-sideline nose guard, and there aren’t a lot of those out there. So give him credit for how hard he plays.
“But he’s a guy that we feel can control the middle and give is good push in the passing game. He’s playing really well for us right now.”
Offered Red Bryant, the team’s 323-pound end who also is a sideline-to-sideline player and just happens to be Mebane’s best friend on the team, “Man, Mebane’s been doing this since he got in the league. Everybody else is just starting to see it. But the people who have been fortunate enough to play with him, they know what type of player he is. So we’re not surprised at all.”
For the view from the other side, we went to center Max Unger, who played against Mebane in college when Unger was at the University of Oregon and Mebane was at Cal. They still go against one another in the pass-rush drill during practice. So Unger knows why Mebane is able to do what he does.
“He’s one of the better leverage players in the NFL, for sure,” Unger said. “He has a low center of gravity, so he’s very difficult to block. He gets in the gap very quickly. It’s tough to deal with guys like that, with the get-off he has, the size he has. It’s tough to handle.
“He’s just a very good player.”
And what does Mebane think about all the hubbub being generated by his mayhem-in-the-middle efforts?
“I can get better,” he said. “I think playing with a group like this; we’re all capable of having great games. We’re all playing at a high level and it’s something we need to continue doing. It’s a collective effort. It’s not like we’re boxing or playing golf. We know each other and we’re playing hard for each other.”
It’s just that Mebane plays perhaps the hardest position, because of the number of other big bodies that can crash into his on any given snap and from any given direction.
“It’s tough in there. It’s not easy,” Mebane said. “One of the things for me is, watch film, know your opponent – what they’re weak at, what they’re good at – and keep your technique sound. Then, just go out there and play football.”
Clinton McDonald, who is part of the tackle rotation that is serving the defense so well, also points to the intangibles that Mebane mentioned when asked why his linemate is playing so well.
“Just knowing who he is as a person, first and foremost,” McDonald said. “When you know who you are as a person, you have a lot more certainty and a lot more confidence in yourself.
“That’s what this D-line brings as far as an I.D. – we know who we are, we know why we’re playing and who we’re playing for. We have a lot of camaraderie.”
But even those who know him best, and are in there down after down with him, often are impressed by just what he is able to do.
“We’ll watch the tape and we’ll see him take on a double-team (block), unorthodox, where he rips both of the guys and makes a play in the backfield, it’s just good to see that all his work is not in vein,” Bryant said.
Then there was Mebane’s first sack on Monday night. It came when Aaron Rodgers slipped and Mebane was there to fall on him. But take a closer look.
“A sack is a sack,” Bryant said. “The reason he fell down is because he couldn’t step up in the pocket, and the reason he couldn’t do that is because Mebane was pushing the pocket and his O-linemen were going backward.”
Mebane’s reputation as a run-stuffer is as solid as his 6-foot-1, 311-pound body. In the Sporting News’ NFL preview issue, he was ranked among the Top 10 players in the league against the run and credited with doing the dirty work to help the Seahawks’ linebackers make tackles.
But there’s obviously more to Mebane’s game than playing the run and helping the linebackers make plays.
“He’s always done really well against the run. Really, really solid against the run,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “Now we saw that last week, some of his push up front. That just makes him even more valuable for us.”
Mebane making things happen.