ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** Seahawks fans know about nose tackle Brandon Mebane in the same way that Broncos fans know Terrance Knighton. In both cases, their national recognition has yet to catch up with their local renown.
But unlike Knighton, who emerged this year after arriving as a free agent from Jacksonville, Mebane has grown over the years with the Seahawks. The seven-year veteran is the longest-tenured player on the roster, and one of just three links remaining to the Mike Holmgren era, which ended after the 2008 season.
Seattle's defense is seventh-best in yards per carry allowed (3.9), eighth-best in percentage of carries to go for first downs (19.7 percent), eighth-best in rushing yardage allowed (101.6 yards a game) and fourth at permitting runs of 20 or more yards (one every 70.3 plays).
Mebane is arguably the biggest reason why. Just like Knighton in recent weeks, Mebane draws double-teams from blocking schemes, and rarely is contained by one offensive lineman. The primary beneficiaries are linebackers Bobby Wagner and Malcolm Smith, both of whom have the freedom to be active against the run because of the attention Mebane draws.
"There's so many combination blocks and double team blocks where he gets underneath people and he can get a guy knocked back," Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said last month.
Mebane is agile on his feet for his size (6-foot-1, 311 pounds), which allows him to be effective with the myriad stunts and twists that Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn likes to utilize.
"He's really strong," Quinn said in December. "I think that's the one thing, when he can get underneath you, it's hard to deal with it and I think one of the things that sets him apart is his balance."
Although Mebane is usually removed from the game when Seattle goes out of its base defense and into nickel and dime sub packages, he is an effective pass rusher when the need arises. He had four quarterback hits in the Seahawks' last two regular-season games, one of which led to an interception, and played a role in one of Seattle's two sacks last week (he wasn't on the field for the other one).
On the sack, he moved inside off the snap from the left defensive tackle spot. Both the right guard and center squared up and moved inside to block him, before center Jonathan Goodwin moved back to monitor right defensive tackle Tony McDaniel. This left right tackle Anthony Davis alone with no potential for help against left defensive end Michael Bennett, who won the one-on-one battle off the edge and accelerated into Colin Kaepernick for the sack.
Work like that explains why it's not Richard Sherman or Earl Thomas who is the Seahawks' top-rated defender in ProFootballFocus.com's metrics, but Mebane, who the site rates as the No. 2 defensive tackle league-wide against the run. Mebane is a root cause of the Seahawks' defensive prowess, but rarely gets the credit he deserves for it.