The analytical types will talk about the duties of the 1- and 3-technique players, nose tackles, and one-gap or two-gap players.
Seahawks defensive tackle Tony McDaniel explains his job in more direct terms. “I go beat up guys up front.”
Actually, lately, it’s been a tag-team match between McDaniel and teammate Ahtyba Rubin against the three interior linemen on opposing offenses. If that seems like a mismatch, you haven’t watched these two.
For most of this season, those two have rooted deep and taken up space so well that some Seahawks defenders have said that they’re the true key to this unit once again being among the elite defenses in the NFL.
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“Week in and week out, they get ignored,” said Richard Sherman, All-Pro cornerback of Rubin and McDaniel. “People wonder why great running backs don’t rush for great yards against us, it’s because of those guys.”
Sherman said Rubin and McDaniel “deserve a ton of credit,” and cited Rubin as the team’s “real MVP.”
Rubin registered six tackles against the Cardinals, an impressive amount inflated by the Cardinals’ insistence on running “a million plays right in the … A gap,” coach Pete Carroll said. “They tried to stuff it at you, and we just kept slugging it out. It was an incredible display.”
Rubin ended up playing 52 snaps and McDaniel 50, more than customary for run-plugging tackles in the pass-happy NFL.
And on one pass, a crossing route to tight end Jermaine Gresham, the scheme called for the 325-pound Rubin to drop into shallow coverage. He ended up making a textbook open-field tackle.
“That guy took on double teams probably 50 snaps in that game in order for somebody else to make the tackles,” Sherman said of Rubin. “And the guy gets no credit for that. He gets no stats, no headline, and nobody’s talking about him. But our defense would not work without him being able to do that.”
Rubin arrived as a free agent before last season, and earned a new contract last spring. He did it through uncommon effort and hustle.
Nose tackles are expected to be immovable obstacles, but Rubin was so fit and committed, he often pursued plays from sideline to sideline. In the playoff game at Minnesota, he was far down field and in position to recover a key fumble by Vikings back Adrian Peterson.
So, the Hawks knew what to expect from Rubin this season.
But McDaniel’s contribution has come as a considerable surprise to all — including McDaniel. After consistently strong production with the Hawks in 2013 and 2014, he was waived and played last season for Tampa Bay.
After being released at age 31, McDaniel was out of work and on a hiking/kayaking vacation in the Cascades in August.
The Seahawks were short on D-line manpower because of injuries, and McDaniel’s agent arranged for the Seahawks to take another look at him. He was resigned and has been a bargain for them since.
“I thought my role would be to come in and give those other guys a breather, maybe play 20 snaps a game at most,” he said. “Honestly, I had no idea I’d have this big a role this time, but I’m fine with that. That’s pretty much been my role my whole life, getting in there and doing the dirty work.”
So, he’s used to having his contributions going largely unseen by the typical fan.
But when told how Sherman described the value of those two stout defensive tackles, McDaniel was obviously delighted.
“Oh, man, that’s awesome,” he said. “That makes me feel appreciated for the work — and pushes me to keep doing it.”
Who knew beating up the guys up front could be so rewarding?