BEREA—Browns fans watching top teams in the NFL’s defenses might see players like Jabaal Sheard excelling for the Patriots, T. J. Ward with Broncos, D’Qwell Jackson or Mike Adams with the Colts or this week might see former Browns nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin in the middle of the Seahawks defense and ask the question this week:
So why couldn’t Rubin play for the Browns?
Rubin’s contract expired after last season with the Browns and all indications are the Browns didn’t have much of an interest in bringing him back.
Mike Pettine said that wasn’t the case.
“You engage all of your free agents at some time or another," Pettine said. "Sometimes it’s before the season. Sometimes it’s during. Sometimes you’re going to wait and see how the season goes and engage him after. It was just a situation where it didn’t work out. When guys get to the market, you have to make sure – I’ve said this before – that you have your guidelines for ‘Hey, this is the right player but it has to be at the right price.’ That’s where sometimes you have the disagreements or when things don’t work out because it’s essentially the right player but we could never get it to be the right price.”
Rubin signed just a one-year contract with the Seahawks for $2.6 million, including a $1 million signing bonus with $500,000 in incentives.
Rubin’s contract is modest compared to the four-year $11.7 million contract signed by his replacement, first round draft pick Danny Shelton.
The Browns have wallowed along at the bottom of the NFL in rushing defense for most of the year. However, by holding the beleaguered 49ers rushing offense to just 71 yards last week, they moved up to 29th. Nothing to celebrate, but an improvement just the same.
The Browns are giving up 131.3 yards a game, while the Seahawks are giving up 83.2 yards a game, 2nd in the NFL.
Rubin, 29, has 29 tackles, including two sacks, five quarterback hurries, one interception, one pass broken in 13 starts at left defensive tackle in Seattle.
The Seahawks signed Rubin on March 20 about a week after free agency began.
Rubin (6-2, 325) is in his eighth season from Iowa State.
The Browns solution to the hole created when they allowed Rubin to leave was drafting Shelton with the 12th overall pick in last spring’s NFL Draft.
Shelton has started all 13 games at nose tackle with 26 tackles, no sacks and no quarterback hurries.
Last year’s starters on the defensive line were Desmond Bryant, Rubin and Phil Taylor when the Browns finished 32nd in stopping the run giving up 141.6 yards a game. Bryant is still with the Browns, while Taylor was released in training camp and hasn’t caught on with another team due to his lingering knee injury from a year ago.
Rubin has been instrumental in the Seahawks ranking second in the league this season in run defense at 83.2 yards per game. Seattle has held four straight opponents under 60 rushing yards, including the Adrian Peterson-led Vikings, who came into that game as the No. 1 rushing team in the league.
On Tuesday, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll praised Rubin.
“Ahtyba has been a fantastic addition to us,” Carroll said. “He’s been very consistent, just been so rock solid and so hard to knock off the football. You can’t do those kinds of numbers without that kind of play starting right there. The safeties and the guys on the edge, they just can’t affect it that way as much as the guys in the middle. So we owe a lot to (Rubin and Brandon Mebane) setting the standard for us for being able to fit with the discipline that it takes, and the consistency that they’ve been able to bring back and forth week after week has given us a chance to keep that running game in order. They’re doing a great job.”
Rubin finished the 2014 season with 28 tackles, one sack and pass broken up in 13 games, missing three games due to injuries.
Pettine’s explanation for why Rubin is playing so well this year is due to his health.
“Where he’s improved this year as well is he is healthier," Pettine said. "I think that’s helped him. He’s a tough guy. There were times where he would never say he was hurt, but I know Rube gutted through a lot last year and I think at times that affected his performance.”
The Browns are coming off their best rushing performance in four years with 230 yards, but in order to have any success this week against the Seahawks they will have to find a way to neutralize the Seahawks front four, including Rubin.
“Defensively, it’s all built around their front four," Pettine said. "They don’t pressure a lot because essentially, they don’t have to. Those guys, they do a good job getting off the ball up front, all high-motor guys. They do a good job scheming up pass rush games. That’s something they’re very productive with each week.
"Our mission up front: we have to control their front four and see if we can establish the type of run game that we showed this past Sunday and give Johnny (Manziel) some time."
Cut it Loose: For the second press conference in a row, Pettine used the term “cut it loose” when talking about the Browns traveling up to play the Seahawks in Seattle.
“It’s the attitude," Pettine said. "We’re not going up there to curl up in a ball. We’re going up there to compete. I thought our guys showed that this past Sunday. When you talk about where our season had gotten to and losing seven in a row – Sunday’s game, two teams in very similar situations – I thought you saw one team that wanted to be out there, wanted to compete and wanted to win a football game. I don’t know that I sensed that same attitude from the other side. I’m proud of our guys, the way they came out.
"The message from the coaches on that can only go so far that we’re going to get our guys mentally ready to play," he said "I think that was more of a sign of our veteran leadership and brought those young guys along. The focus, the energy, very few mental mistakes – we only missed two tackles in the game, which I think is a low for the season; penalty wise, it was one of our better games in that sense. We’re just not going to go up there and just put in a day. As I stressed to the team, that starts today with how we prepare, how we practice.”
Hawkins, Gilbert Remain Out: The Browns still have three players in the concussion protocol. DB Justin Gilbert, WR Andrew Hawkins, RB Glenn Winston all out with concussions. Others on the injury front to start the week are: WR Marlon Moore (ribs), OL Joe Thomas (knee), DB K’Waun Williams (shoulder), QB Johnny Manziel (right elbow) and DL Randy Starks (rest). Thomas is usually listed as rest, but he was listed with a knee injury, but Pettine said they expect Thomas to be fine by week’s end.
“It’s his standard day off, but later in week (should be okay),” Pettine said. “We just might have to give him a second day (of rest).”
Manziel has been on the injury list every week for most of the season, but Pettine was asked about Manziel’s injury.
“(Manziel) really hasn’t had (any issues with the elbow).”
Winston Experiment: The Browns kept RB Glenn Winston around for nearly two seasons and he finally had his chance to play against the 49ers last Sunday. His first carry resulted in an eight-yard loss and a lost fumble. Later, he suffered a concussion on a special teams play.
“Nobody is as frustrated as he is," Pettine said. "It was his former team, captain for the game, gets a chance to get in there and try to make a play and gets the ball punched out. That was a tough one, and I believe it was on a kickoff that he got concussed. It was a tough day, but Glenn is a tough kid and he’ll fight back from this."
Pettine was asked if Winston still has a future with the Browns.
“I think so," he said. "Glenn is a guy that’s given us good work, works hard in practice. It’s just a shame that the one time he was in there, that’s what happened. He did some quality work for Tabes (special teams coordinator Chris Tabor). He’s a guy that has an NFL skillset.”
Moves: The Browns signed RB Darryl Richardson to the active roster to replace WR Brian Hartline, who was officially placed on injured reserve with a broken collar bone. Earlier in the week, the Browns claimed OL Kaleb Johnson via waivers from Baltimore and signed WR Rannell Hall off Tampa Bay’s practice squad. In addition, the team placed Joe Haden (concussion) on injured reserve and waived OL Gabe Ikard.