The 2004 first-round pick out of Texas finished his 2005-2006 season playing in twelve games, during which he registered 40 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. If you yawned at those numbers, you're not alone. They are hardly awe-inspiring, and I won't be picking up Tubbs in any fantasy football leagues. But stats don't tell the whole picture, and defensive line statistics are about as reliable as Giants kicker Jay Feely.
2-Techniques and 3-Techniques
To set realistic expectations for Tubbs, you need to divide DTs by their roles. Rocky Bernard and Tubbs may both be listed as defensive tackles, but their jobs couldn't be more different. You’d never compare a DT’s sack numbers to a DE’s, so why compare a 2-technique and a 3-technique?
You have your 2-technique tackles. Their job is to take on multiple linemen and defeat them. By defeat, I mean that they have to do something that the offensive linesman doesn't want them to do. Obviously making the tackle does this, but a 2-technique can still succeed without touching the ballcarrier. For example, on a stretch play, the defensive tackle can succeed by closing off a cutback lane, forcing the play to be strung out to the sidelines. On a passing play, it usually involves absorbing double teams and (ideally) pushing the pocket forward enough so that the quarterback must throw off his back foot. Players such as Pat Williams, Shaun Rogers, Marcus Stroud, and Kris Jenkins make up the elite of this group.
Then you have your 3-technique tackles. The roles are much more defined, but also more difficult to perform. Their job is to slip past their blocker, every play. Go to the left, go to the right, or go through their blocker, it doesn't matter. Once they get past the offensive lineman (and usually it's only one, though the elite often get double-teamed) they have to diagnose the play as either a run or a pass, and then fly (ok, they're still + - 280lbs...let’s say waddle) to the ball. Some of the better 3-technique tackles are Rod Coleman, Kevin Williams, Rocky Bernard, and Tommie Harris. Typically, they'll have many more sacks (and often more tackles) because they are freed from having to tie up blockers.
Note: 3-4 nose tackles are left off because their job is slightly different from 2-technique tackles, their numbers don't compare at all (Steelers NT Casey Hampton gets 16 tackles, with no sacks, and is a legitimate pro-bowler). Also, this is obviously a simplified description of their jobs.
To put the statistics that Tubbs produced last year into perspective, here is what other "elite" 2-technique tackles put up last year. For players who missed extended time, I went back to their last healthy season.
Pat Williams - 67 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Shaun Rogers - 41 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Marcus Stroud - 43 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
Kris Jenkins ('03) -46 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Marcus Tubbs - (12 games) 40 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Now, even if you ignore that Tubbs missed 4 games against teams with decidedly poor interior offensive lines (StL (2 games), NYG, and SF) he still compares very well with the above-listed. All of those players are either recent pro-bowlers or have signed fat contracts recently (or both). Aside from Williams having a very high tackle count (and considering he‘s 335 lbs the same way all women are perpetually 29 or under, I have newfound sympathy for running backs) at 67, Tubbs fits right in.
The biggest complaint about Marcus Tubbs is that he isn't consistent enough. Of course, there is no statistic to that. Maybe the idea is that Tubbs has those "big plays" IE the tackles, the sacks, but doesn't do the little things. To investigate this, I dug deep into my TiVo to find what Seahawk games remained. Alas, only the postseason remained (WAS, CAR, and the Super Bowl) archived but I grabbed some popcorn and focused specifically on the defensive tackle play. Even more specifically, between Darby and Tubbs, as they were the 2 technique tackles on the defensive line.
These were not statistically impressive playoffs for Tubbs. Over those three games, he accumulated six total tackles, with no sacks. If Tubbs was taking plays off, these would be the games to find it. If he was playing poorly the entire game - and not simply the victim of poor luck with the stat book - I'd see it in these games.
Yet, despite not “starting” any playoff games, he was arguably the best tackle on the team (if not for a spectacular game against Carolina by Rocky Bernard it wouldn't even be close), and definitely better than the "starter" Chuck Darby (who actually looked pretty poor against WAS and CAR). On pass plays, Tubbs consistently moved the pile forward against double teams. On running plays, Tubbs exerted dominance against WAS and CAR, and held his own against an excellent guard in Alan Faneca. Overall, it was a very sound playoff series for Tubbs.
6:00 left in the 1st quarter – Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell drops back to pass and the Seahawks destroy the pocket protecting him. Brunell manages to slip out of the pocket, but on this play Tubbs uses ferocious strength to drive back his man and keep Brunell from stepping up in the pocket to make a play. It's this sort of thing that doesn't show up in the stat book but has a big impact on games.
12:00 remaining in the 4th quarter - On the touchdown catch by WR Santana Moss to make the score 17-10 Seattle, Tubbs, facing double teams, again moved the pile forward. Even on these failed plays, it's evident that Tubbs is making a monstrous difference in Brunell's ability to step up to the pocket.
(For those who don't remember this play, it was a horrid throw by Brunell into triple/quadruple coverage that bounced off of Andre Dyson's helmet and into Santana Moss' hands.)
Super Bowl XL
4:49 remaining in the 2nd quarter - incompletion by Big "Faceplant" Ben Roethlisberger. On this play, Tubbs gets a poor jump off the snap and doesn't disengage. He tries a different move, and still doesn’t get by Alan Faneca. Finally he just bull-rushes to the quarterback and forces the Big Ben to throw flat footed. Out of college, Tubbs received a lot of criticism for taking plays off, and some of that reputation remains. It's no longer deserved. He may never get articles written about his work ethic like Chuck Darby does, but Tubbs is hustling every play he's in.
Tubbs is just one of those players who can't get any love from the hometown fans. We're a city that loves the Willie Bloomquist types who can't play but help old ladies cross the street, while we ignore players who produce on gameday but don't have that blue-collar reputation. Last year was essentially Tubbs’ rookie year after '04 saw him receive minimal action. He's not only going to get better, he's going to get much better. The best thing about Tubbs is that he isn't just a big body in the middle - despite being a two technique tackle he still managed to nab 5.5 sacks in only 12 games, and shows very good lateral pursuit.
I challenge anyone who really questions Tubbs’ motor to fire up a Seahawk game and focus only on the performance of the defensive tackles. He isn't taking any plays off, doesn't quit on any plays (against Washington, he chased TE Chris Cooley 8 yards downfield to make a tackle on a screen pass), and is easily our strongest tackle against the run. Defensive tackle is one of those positions where it is hard to gauge a player's impact while watching the ball, so Tubbs hasn't shook the reputation (All the talent in the world, but needs motivation) he entered the draft with.
His old draft profile read: All the talent in the world, but takes plays off.