Pair of Young Defensive Tackles Provides Boost for Seahawks' Front Line
RENTON, WA - After bullying the Dolphins in Week 1 with 217 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground in their season opener, coach Pete Carroll expected the Patriots to come out with a similar game plan against the Seahawks in their prime time matchup on Sunday night.
Initially, New England did just that, running the ball on eight of its first 12 plays on an opening scoring drive that culminated with Cam Newton bulling his way into the end zone for six points. But even with that possession ending with a touchdown, it was already apparent the visiting team would have a difficult night running the football.
Away from Newton's scoring run, the combination of Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead ran six times for just 15 yards on that drive. Making an immediate adjustment after a three-and-out on the Patriots next drive, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels turned to the passing game, as their top two backs carried the ball just eight more times combined the remainder of the contest for a dismal 20 rushing yards.
"We went in - they had just rushed for 220 or whatever the heck it was -and I was thinking they loved the way they started and they would try to do it again," Carroll said on Monday. "It started that way and they just didn't stay with it, as they saw some other opportunities I guess."
The biggest reason for the Patriots rapid departure from their original game plan? Along with starting defensive tackles Jarran Reed and Poona Ford playing well, they couldn't move 700 pounds of beef taking up residence in the trenches in the form of second-year reserves Bryan Mone and Anthony Rush, forcing them to air it out against a secondary minus Quandre Diggs and Marquise Blair.
While Mone and Rush combined to make just three tackles, the stat line doesn't tell an accurate story in regard to their impact in Sunday's win. Playing a combined 41 snaps, the duo held their own at the point of attack, gobbling up double teams and leaving linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright as well as safety Jamal Adams free to make plays stopping the run.
Surprisingly, on a night where the Seahawks struggled to generate a pass rush and only recorded one sack on Newton, Mone also unexpectedly had a pair of pressures penetrating from the interior. Through two games per ESPN Analytics, he's produced a 23 percent pass rush win rate, the fourth-highest percentage in the NFL.
"Our guys did a really, really good job in the middle and up front," Carroll remarked. "It's nice to see - Anthony Rush is a big kid - he weighs 360 and plays like it. And I thought that Bryan [Mone] had his best game for us and just doing what we're counting on him to do."
Throughout training camp, Carroll spoke highly about Mone's progress, particularly when it came to his conditioning. The former undrafted free agent signee out of Michigan arrived at a trimmed down 340 pounds after being listed at 360-plus pounds during his rookie season.
After appearing in four regular season games and playing meaningful snaps in a Divisional Round loss to the Packers back in January, Mone has emerged as the nose tackle replacement for Al Woods, who departed in free agency to sign with the Jaguars and ultimately opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns.
As for Rush, the Seahawks were familiar with him after playing against him twice last year when he was with the Eagles. They signed the ex-UAB standout to the practice squad earlier this month and took advantage of a new league rule to promote him for Sunday's game as another big-bodied reinforcement to combat the Patriots rushing tendencies.
Based on how he played in 16 snaps while producing two tackles and holding his own on Seattle's final goal line stop, though he will revert back to the practice squad for now, it may not be long before he's given a more permanent promotion. It's a great sign for a young defensive tackle group that has looked far better than expected to kick off the season.
"That combination there I feel really good about it now in the early stage of the season, that those guys can contribute and they can make us big and stout inside," Carroll stated. "You saw the effects of it, it was a really, really good game for us in the middle."