The $64 million questions are: Why will Tubbs' loss be so keenly felt, and how can the Seahawks overcome it?
From a purely statistical
standpoint, there are few NFL defensive tackles – especially nose tackles
in either 3-4 or 4-3 defenses - who show more difference
made than Tubbs. The nose tackles typically man the point, while the complementary
3-technique tackles blow through and make plays. In a position where tackles
and sacks never tell the whole story, a series of numbers have been circulating
for months, ever since Tubbs was lost for the remainder of the 2006 season
with his November injured reserve designation: In the 11 regular season games
Two factors tend to reduce the impact to some who have analyzed these numbers – small sample size (how can you really rate the effectiveness of a variable based on five games versus 11?), and the different circumstances under which rushing attempts happen (were these rushing yards coming about due to opposing teams hogging the clock and adding yards based on garbage time – after all, the Seahawks went 5-6 without Tubbs in the lineup?)
These questions can be answered to a point by DVOA, Football Outsiders' proprietary statistic, which breaks down every play of the NFL season based on specific situations against the league average including opponent strength, down and distance, and many other things. Basically, it assigns importance to play-by-play data at a forensic level.
For the 2006
Based on a per-game average (and adjusted for Seattle's season-long defensive effectiveness), the Seahawks put together an aggregate defensive run DVOA of -14.04% with Tubbs (a total that would have ranked seventh in the league, prorated over a whole season), and +4.9% without (which would have ranked 24th). Opposing rushing attacks averaged a -22.7% DVOA with Tubbs (which would have ranked 31st over a full season), and -0.5% without (good enough for 13th).
The Seahawks with and without
Tubbs faced two of their division opponents one time each. In Week 2,
There will be a more specific analysis of these numbers on Football Outsiders in the near future. Aggregate DVOA is a very inexact method because DVOA itself can swing wildly from week to week, but the averages are enough.
Actually, if you're a Seahawks fan, they're quite a bit more than enough.
The Replacement Killers
Now that we know that the
Seahawks are severely impacted without Tubbs in the lineup, we have to ask
how the issue can be corrected. Last season,
The domino effect was harsh
and immediate. With no wall at the line,
One pre-emptive measure
against the sort of falloff that plagued this Tubbs-less team was the selection
One analyst who has been in Mebane's corner for a long time is NFLDraftScout.com Senior Draft Analyst Rob Rang. When asked about Mebane's ability to take over this most important role from an understudy position. Rang was fairly definite about the idea.
"Mebane's play thus far
has been a pleasant surprise," Rang said. "His ability to clog running lanes
"The surprising aspect about
Mebane's play has been his ability to collapse the pocket. In this capacity
Mebane has actually been an improvement over Tubbs. While at Cal Mebane was
coached to occupy blockers, allowing the defenders around him to make plays
behind the line of scrimmage. He has great quickness off the snap, but wasn't
coached to use his hands to disengage and attack. Over the past few months,
the Seahawks' coaching staff has done a great job in realizing Mebane's untapped
potential. He's already demonstrating the ability to be a more consistent
disruptor than he was at
Rang also noted the importance
of others on the defense stepping up and making things happen. "The addition
of safeties Brian Russell and Deon Grant is also significant," he said. "Russell's
cerebral, consistent play should provide an influence to the
"Clearly the Seahawks are a lesser team in losing Marcus Tubbs for the season," Rang said. "Because his healthy return was far from guaranteed, however, the team was forced to plan for his absence. The addition of Mebane, Russell and Grant eases the team's concerns."
The Seahawks will have to do what any potential championship team does – find a way to win under adverse circumstances. The last team to sail through the entire NFL season untouched by fickle fate was a virtual one, created in Madden Franchise Mode, and most likely on the "Rookie" setting. Remember that the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only undefeated team in NFL history, didn't have their starting quarterback for half the season.
Ah, those damned injuries…
For Marcus Tubbs, 26-year-old professional defensive tackle, it's all about the sum total of a professional life. With his inability to play this year, Tubbs will have played in only 29 of a possible 64 regular-season games when 2007 ends. His rookie contract, signed in August of 2004, expires after next season. The final question is – will he even be around the team to enjoy it? Between a microfracture procedure and a blown ACL, how many defensive tackles can do more than play with their kids on two repaired knees?
Will Carroll, sports injury expert for Baseball Prospectus, Football Outsiders, and SI.com, says that it's really dependent on how much "faith in Richard Steadman's controversial (microfracture) technique - one that seems to get great results or, at worst, does nothing."
In short, the arthroscopic procedure involves the removal of any unstable cartilage from the knee area, and the creation of small holes ("microfractures") in the bone. Bone Marrow cells and blood from the area will then form a new structure – at least, that's the idea. The problem, of course, is whether the extension of a career this violent through these means is the rough equivalent of trying to stop a charging rhino with a toy pistol. According to Carroll, the ACL repair procedure has more documented reliability in these types of cases, and the two injuries should not necessarily be seen as cumulative.
"The ACL, as we've seen, doesn't really factor in, especially for linemen. I think what we have to look at is that we've seen comebacks from both (injuries, though most microfracture "survivors" have not been linemen) and consider them separately rather than as most people logically do -- as parts of the same person," Carroll concluded. "I'm more worried about the weight and the microfracture - there's just no good comparable. From the ACL, we've seen a lot of (recoveries), usually without short-term problems. I'd think the biggest concern is that he can come back from the microfracture, something he's already demonstrated to some extent, and that his career is not likely to challenge Chris Gray's for longevity!"
For the Seahawks, the concern
is the here and now, For Marcus Tubbs, it's the future
on his mind. How that impossible gap is bridged over time will decide the
fates of both entities.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and a contributing author to Pro Football Prospectus 2007. Feel free to e-mail him here.