There’s a reason why Ahtyba Rubin has been so tough for the Seattle Seahawks this season.
He spent seven seasons in Cleveland.
“Right,” Seattle’s defensive tackle said before his soaring-again Seahawks (8-5) host the Browns (3-10) Sunday at CenturyLink Field, when Rubin could again be as prominent as an anonymous blocker absorber can be. “I saw a lot of coaches, a lot of different styles. I just had to keep proving myself every year, and just keep showing new coaching staffs that I belong.”
The Browns haven’t won an NFL championship since Lyndon Johnson was president. That was 1964. They were 34-78 with no winning seasons while Rubin played for them from 2008 through last season.
“I mean, it’s made me tougher,” the 29-year-old said of his time in Cleveland. “I always keep fighting.
“Like I do here; I keep chopping wood.”
Rubin hasn’t just been chopping that Seattle wood lately. He’s been a buzz saw.
He has been in the center of the revival of this Seahawks’ season — as well as his own career, one that had been stalled with the losing Browns.
The 6-foot-2, 325-pound run-stuffer has been devouring blockers from his three-technique position, over the guard. With Rubin and neighboring tackle Brandon Mebane, also sublime at age 30, thanklessly absorbing double teams, the Seahawks are second in the league in run defense allowing 83.2 yards a game. Rubin and Mebane have freed linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright to make tackles while often unblocked. That’s why Seattle has held one of the NFL’s top running backs in Adrian Peterson to 18 yards and limited its past four foes to under 60 yards on the ground.
The Seahawks have won all four of those games, reversing their previously uneven season to one suddenly soaring toward another playoff run. That’s how important Rubin has been.
“Huge,” defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. “Huge. With our defense, it absolutely starts up front. The four guys that we put down there, they put their hands in the dirt, and they absolutely know what their responsibility is. And he’s been a staple for us right there.
“Right there in the middle. Darn near playing every snap. He plays a lot of reps for us, and he does a fantastic job of being stout.”
It’s about as unappreciated a job as there is in football. Smash into blockers immediately after each snap. Don’t let one or two or even three of them at one time drive you off the line of scrimmage. If you can somehow claw through all that to make a tackle or sack a quarterback, great. But your primary job is to tie up as many opponents on the line as you can so your teammates can get all the glory, the tackles and sacks and, in the case of Wagner, a new $43 million contract this past summer.
In 13 games Rubin has 29 tackles, two sacks and one memorable interception — the second of his career — Nov. 29 against Pittsburgh. He is earning $1.35 million on a one-year contract he signed with Seattle this spring, after Cleveland gave up on him because of an injury-filled 2014 season.
For what he has brought to the foundation of Seattle’s at-times inconsistent defense this season, Rubin might be the best bargain on the team this side of undrafted rookie running back Thomas Rawls.
“There’s different ways to play the position. We basically tried to play big there, with the big guys, and hold up and give us good, solid play,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Rubin. “We know how much they get double teamed and how important it is to hold the line of scrimmage.
“Rubin’s been great at it. He’s really been as consistent as anybody we’ve had over the years. We’re really fired up about what he’s brought.”
Does Richard have to make an extra effort in defensive meetings to praise Rubin and Mebane, to compensate for their lack of notoriety?
“Make an extra effort? No,” the youngest defensive coordinator in the league (36) said. “Those guys know absolutely how much they mean to us, because that’s talked about from day one.
“Again, that’s where our defense is built around, these guys up front. It’s all about us stopping the run, is really what it comes down to. We definitely want to try to make teams one-dimensional, and those guys are a huge part of it in stopping it.”
That’s exactly what the Seahawks did at Minnesota and Baltimore the past two weekends. Sunday, that’s what they intend to do to Cleveland.
Second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel gets all the attention for every Browns game — even when he’s demoted to third string, as he was late last month after some bye-week partying in Texas he promised his team he wouldn’t do. But Seattle expects Cleveland to try to get its 30th-ranked rushing offense going early with Isaiah Crowell (542 yards) on what is supposed to be a rainy, cold day. That would reduce the burden on Manziel in his seventh career start. College football’s Heisman Trophy winner his freshman season at Texas A&M got widely knocked while with the Aggies for not playing well in bad-weather games. Some saw Cleveland as a potentially bad fit for him, for that reason.
Manziel sees the Seahawks’ recently swarming defense that hasn’t allowed a touchdown in its past eight quarters as a potentially bad fit for any opponent, especially in the noise of CenturyLink Field.
“They can hurt you in a multitude of ways,” said Manziel, who is 2-2 as a starter this season. “But at the same time, as long as you try to (ignore) the chaos that they try to create, a little bit if you can, I feel like teams have been able to move the ball on them a little bit.
“But you have to give a lot of credit and have a lot of respect for this unit, for sure.”
Offensively, the Seahawks will debut Bryce Brown and re-debut 2013 second-round draft choice Christine Michael, traded to Dallas in September then re-signed Wednesday, as their lead backs. They are the fifth and sixth to get that chance this season, the dominoes falling after Marshawn Lynch (abdominal surgery Nov. 25) and Rawls (broken ankle and torn ligaments last weekend) got hurt.
Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell vow their philosophy of running first and often will not change, even with Plans E and F doing the rushing. But the way Russell Wilson is throwing — the first NFL quarterback to fire three or more touchdown passes with no interceptions and a completion rate of 70 percent in four consecutive games — and the way Doug Baldwin is catching the ball (eight touchdowns in the past three games), Carroll and Bevell themselves could be running and it might not matter Sunday.
Cleveland has the league’s 29th-ranked run defense, 26th-ranked overall defense and is tied for 30th in points allowed. The Browns have allowed at least 26 points in 10 of their 13 games.
Though he has nothing but good things to say about the Browns for giving him his NFL start and for the friends he made, Rubin’s glad this weekend he’s playing for the team in blue and not the team in white anymore.
“It’s a different vibe. It’s a Super Bowl feeling,” Rubin said. “Everybody’s clicking. We continue to pick up our steam and keep it going.
“Just keep going — and keep chopping wood.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
CLEVELAND BROWNS (3-10) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (8-5)
SUNDAY, 1:05 P.M., CENTURYLINK FIELD
TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: Seattle leads 11-6. Only three of those meetings have come since the Seahawks left the Browns’ AFC for the NFC in 2002. Cleveland’s only trip to CenturyLink Field came on Nov. 30, 2003, a Seahawks win by 34-7. The Browns have won the past two in the series, in 2007 (33-30 in overtime) and 2011 (6-3). That 2011 meeting was the only game Marshawn Lynch missed from when Seattle acquired him in 2010 until this season. He’s going to miss this one, too.
SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
Put it all on “Johnny Football:” The Seahawks have held their past four opponents to under 60 yards rushing, as more disciplined play in assigned gaps by the defensive front have turned offenses into one-dimensional messes that Seattle has swarmed. The defensive plan today is to do the same with a heavy, early focus on RB Isaiah Crowell and the Browns’ 30th-ranked run game. That would eventually free speedy defensive ends Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark to pressure Johnny Manziel into seeing whether he can do it all himself on the road, in the rain, against the two-time defending NFC champions in his seventh career start.
Find out if this is a new C-Mike: Christine Michael is back. Teammate Doug Baldwin said he can already see a new, more-dedicated mindset and commitment from Seattle’s 2013 second-round draft choice on whom the Seahawks gave up in September by trading him to Dallas. Bryce Brown, also brought back this week after Seattle released him last month, is likely to get the first runs. But Michael will get the chance to gain back some of the trust he lost over two frustrating seasons and this summer’s training camp. If Marshawn Lynch comes back soon, this might be one of the last chances Michael gets.
Do their jobs: These Seahawks believe they are back where they should have been all season, where they’ve been for most of the previous two years: on a championship track. The way Russell Wilson has been throwing, the offensive line has been blocking and the defense has been thrashing rush offenses should not change in this one. The Browns are young and unaccomplished, and this stage should be a daunting one. If the Seahawks take care of business the way they have the last month, they should be 9-5 by Sunday night.
Seahawks, 34-6. Wilson doesn’t need to throw as brilliantly as he has recently. Brown and Michael are plenty for Cleveland’s run-over defensive front. And Seattle keeps its revival roaring towards the postseason.
3 — Russell Wilson, QB (5-11, 206, fourth season): 16 TDs, 0 INTs, 75 percent completions past four games. Can he possibly keep this up? Will he even have to in this one?
32 — Christine Michael, RB (5-10, 221, third season): He’s back to help a barren backfield. Will a new number and what teammates say is a new attitude equal better rushing results?
72 — Michael Bennett, DE (6-4, 274, seventh season): 8 1/2 sacks, needs one to set his career high. Will get ample chances with Johnny Manziel dashing outside.
2 — Johnny Manziel, QB (6-0, 210, second season): Two of Browns’ three wins have come when he has started. Teammates — even former ones such as Seahawks Patrick Lewis and Ahtyba Rubin — say they are behind him and love him.
82 — Gary Barnidge, TE (6-6, 250, eighth season): Team’s leading receiver and touchdown maker. Tight ends have given Seattle’s defense trouble down the field all season.
96 — Xavier Cooper, DT (6-4, 300, rookie season): Rookie from WSU, Wilson High averaging 27 snaps per game. Played about as much as first-round pick Danny Shelton from UW last week.