Friday, July 29, 2011

What to Do with Brandon Mebane

After months of suspense, the Conundrum has finally been resolved. DT Brandon Mebane, one of the most underappreciated talents on the team, has been re-signed by the Seahawks, who have avoided what could have been the worst mistake of this offseason: letting him go and relying on Alan Branch.

Mebane's contract is for 5 years, $25 million. That's pleasantly manageable, considering Seattle had to beat away offers from Denver, St. Louis, New Orleans, and who knows who else. It's in keeping with John Schneider's excellent haggling work so far this offseason, no doubt helped by Mebane's latent desire to remain in Seattle.

It's still, however, disproportionate to the unremarkable production Mebane achieved in his last two years playing out of position. That's why I'm mildly stunned that Seattle kept him. All through his contract year of 2010, he didn't seem to be producing anywhere near enough (1 sack, 1 QB hit) to justify a bigger payday. Mebane's return is big for Seattle, but not if he just keeps getting used the same way.

Which suggests one of two possibilities to me:

1. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are chumps.

2. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are planning some changes for the defense.

In 2008, Mebane racked up 5.5 sacks and 18 QB hits, impressive work for an interior tackle. At the time, he was playing the 1-tech position in a standard 4-3 defense, a position that expects tackles to disrupt by forcing double teams and denting pockets. That's a vastly underappreciated aspect of pass rush, by the way - so few people recognize that edge rushers can be easily avoided if a QB has a clean pocket to step forward into. Taking away a QB's pocket takes away half his playbook.

Then in 2009, Jim Mora moved Mebane to replace the departed Rocky Bernard at 3-tech, which requires a lighter, fluider, better-in-space lineman to quickly knife through protection and track down QB's. Perhaps Mora was thinking (is that too generous a word for him?) that Mebane's college experience at 3-tech would serve him well here, and indeed Mebane is known for his excellent first step. But that's only the first item on the list of necessary 3-tech attributes; he lacks others. That's part of why he slipped into the 3rd round in the 2007 draft.

Accordingly, Mebane has struggled to provide much of an impact as a 3-tech. In 2008, his unusually low center of gravity and quick first step allowed him to achieve direct penetration from a 1-tech position that doesn't require any. It looked like a dessert that created opportunities elsewhere on the line but can't exist on its own as a main course. He's an excellent run defender no matter where he lines up, but that doesn't translate to "impact" in this league. It's a quarterback's game now, and that quarterback has to come down. Drew Brees had no running game to protect him in the playoffs and still filleted our defense into Kelly Jennings-sized pieces, one of the many instances that suggest the greater importance of pass rush over run defense.

I wonder if Mebane's re-signing indicates that Carroll is planning to tweak his scheme to fit his talent. Mebane is inferior as deployed in 2010 but superlative as an enabler for others, attracting double teams as a 1-tech. Seattle has been using Colin Cole at that position, but Cole has provided nothing but modest run stoutness in that role (and has played next to the run-challenged Chris Clemons). And he's now injured, which might further mandate Mebane's return to 1-tech. A quick bite from Rotoworld seems to agree with this, for what that's worth.

Prior to yesterday I'd have said that there's nobody else on this line capable of taking advantage of a good 1-tech enabler, but now Seattle has Alan Branch. Sure, Branch was a letdown in Arizona, but he doesn't have to be a Pro Bowler to match what Mebane hacked out at 3-tech. He could improve from there via the over-tackle work of Mebane, who should be able to reproduce his only major contribution from 2009 and 2010 - defending the run - from any position. By improving just the 1-tech, Seattle's pass rush as a whole stands to benefit.

It's hard to envision all this in Carroll's and Gus Bradley's two-gap hybrid line. I'm not sure whether the excessive double-teams on last year's 3-tech were a product of Cole's insufficiencies or of the scheme. If it's scheme, tweaks will be necessary to keep Branch clean. But it's even harder to envision Seattle paying Mebane to do nothing in terms of pass rush and leaving Junior Siavii (good depth but nothing more) to man the vacancy left by Cole. This coaching staff loves to tweak, after all. A return to traditional 4-3 wouldn't go amiss, either; it was mostly the physical tools and determination of our ends that got us our sacks last year, not the scheme.

Between losing Cole and seeing the clear and obvious weaknesses on this team, there seems to be a natural impetus to improve the 1-tech position. Re-signing Mebane could signal this. In any case, Seattle made the right move in bringing him back. Our big 3-tech could be coming next year; I can't imagine Schneider ignoring the 3-tech position for a third straight draft. Once we get that guy, return Mebane to his enabler role and it's truly game on for this defensive line. At last.

(Check out this old Fieldgulls breakdown and Kip Earlywine's original Mebane Conundrum piece here on 17 Power for more technical details.).


  1. Maybe they sign and trade him to Denver for Tebow. lol

  2. I would ban you for that if I knew where the button was.

  3. I think it's obvious that this defense would be better off if Mebane was moved back to where he is best.

  4. It looks like Mebane is being put back into the 1 tech on the line.

  5. wow! good call on that move they just announced thats exactly what they plan on doing