Super Bowl 49: Here's what it's like trying to tackle Marshawn Lynch

The NFL's best players revere Marshawn Lynch's blend of raw strength and balance. (USATSI)
The NFL's best players revere Marshawn Lynch's blend of raw strength and balance. (Getty Images)

PHOENIX -- In a hallway here this week on the night of the Pro Bowl draft, Denver Broncos defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Ware decided to use my body to describe how tough it can be to tackle Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.

I asked Ware, a veteran of a lot of football and plenty of big hits, if he had any stories about the pitfalls of trying to tackle Lynch and his powerful running style, one that has earned him the nickname of Beast Mode.

Ware decided a demonstration would work. He showed me how Lynch used his stiff-arm to get away from Ware, who outweighs the back by some 30 pounds. Let's just say if a stiff-arm in the chest from Lynch feels anything like the one Ware put in my chest -- with little force, I might add -- it can't feel good.

"I shed my blocker and I was there waiting for him," Ware said. "I said to myself, 'I got him.' I tried to lock up on him and he knocked me off. I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' That just shows how strong he is. I knew I had to bring the heat if I was going to tackle him."

Here's a look at that play:

I told Ware after taking a close look at the play that it didn't appear that Lynch got his stiff-arm into his chest. But Ware said it indeed happened.

"Believe me," Ware said. "He got me right here."

He pointed to the middle of his chest.

"Powerful," Ware said. "That's one strong man."

At 5-feet-11, 215 pounds, Lynch plays much bigger than that, which is why he has earned that Beast Mode nickname. His thick legs and powerful running style have made many a defender miss and had plenty of tacklers in his path hoping for the best and not another trip to see the stars. Just imagine that big, tough back coming at you with full speed.

I wondered what it felt like to hit Lynch, so with all the Pro Bowl players gathered here before Super Bowl XLIX this week, a game that will spotlight Lynch and the Seahawks against the New England Patriots, I posed that question to several defenders.

"It's like a train," Packers corner Sam Shields said. "I've never been hit by a train, of course, but that's what it seems like: A big train coming right at you. It's hard to stop when it gets going."

Ware used the same type of analogy.

"When he comes at you, it’s almost like he's saying this is my train track, and I am going down this train track, and whatever is in front of me I am going to run it over," Ware said.

Packers corner Same Shields (right) compares tackling Marshawn Lynch to being hit by a train. (Getty Images)
Packers corner Sam Shields (right) compares tackling Marshawn Lynch to being hit by a train. (Getty Images)

"And that's how he does it. You usually don't knock him off the train track. He keeps going. You just have to slow him down."

This is one train you know is coming, and while you might want to get out of the way, you can't. It's your job not to do so, even if it will hurt all the way until Wednesday if you don't.

Lynch is the key to the Seattle offense. When he's going, they're going. They feed off of his big, powerful runs.

"He gets them moving," Rams defensive end Robert Quinn said. "When he's rolling, it takes the pressure off Russell Wilson."

"That team thrives off the way he runs," 49ers safety Antoine Bethea said.

Lynch ran for 1,304 yards this season, and has added 216 yards in two playoff games to help get Seattle to the Super Bowl. It's more than the numbers with him, though. When he gets rolling, as in running over tacklers, dragging some like a father with his kids on his back, it seems to start a frenzy of sorts with the Seahawks, both on offense and defense.

The players here raved about his strength. This is how much respect they have for him: Even before I mentioned this story, they were talking about the challenge of tackling him among themselves.

"Hey, we're really fans of the game, too, and the way he runs the football is admirable," Bethea said. "We appreciate a good player."

Lynch has run over a lot of good tacklers in his career, including this season. But it's hard to get anybody to admit they were run over, victims of the train coming down the track. There's a lot of ego involved. Not one player, in fact, admitted Lynch blew them up as they attempted to make a tackle.

Yet the respect they have for him as a power runner came through loud and clear.

"They were running a stretch play outside at me, and he's a big, powerful dude," Quinn said. "I did what I could to swipe the arm down when he tried to stiff-arm me, and I threw my body into him. And held on. He's not an easy guy to bring down, as you can see when he has three or four guys on him and he's still running. He almost got me. I got him down and got the tackle. I was a little nervous. I though it could get a little ugly out in space. But I got him down."

Meeting Lynch in the hole can be a huge challenge for any safety. Those are some of the most violent collisions in football with any back, let alone one with the power of Lynch.

The sheer physics of a fast-moving, hard-hitting safety meeting a back running at top speed in the hole says danger.

Robert Quinn has wrapped his arms around Marshawn a few times as NFC West foes.
Robert Quinn (L) has wrapped his arms around Lynch a few times as NFC West foes. (Getty Images)

"In our game up there, I came down and hit him in the hole and I am thinking I am getting him for no gain," Bethea said. "But he always seems to be falling forward or stepping out of a tackle. And he did against me. You know he's a serious player when your defensive coordinator tells you before the game that it will take all 11 of you to get him down."

Since he isn't the biggest back, it's interesting to figure out why he's such a violent runner.

Seeing his runs carrying bodies and pushing piles belies a man who isn't even 225 pounds. The players here say there's more to the power than just his size.

It starts with his strength. Those stiff-arms and the drive in his legs show off a player who is much more powerful than his listed size.

"That guy is a brick wall," Cardinals corner Patrick Peterson said.

"He's a monster," Chargers safety Eric Weddle said.

As with any player in any sport, there are keys to slowing him down. A lot of the players said it was grabbing onto something -- usually a leg -- and waiting for teammates. Weddle said you have to fight power with power.

"You have to have a low base and hit him with all the power you have," Weddle said. "It doesn't matter if you get trucked (run over), you have to hold on and wait for teammates to come and help. You can't just let him run you over and let him rip off a 20-yard run."

Sometimes, even power doesn't work.

"Usually I can hit somebody, and my weight and momentum will push him hard enough backwards or to the side," Ware said. "With him, he's so big and strong and runs very low that it's so rough. You hit him and you don't tip him over. When hitting him, he's still going to lean forward. You don't find a lot of backs like that."

Something else makes him stand out from other power backs. His feet. Ware marveled at the way Lynch runs.

"He runs like a speed guy," Ware said. "You have guys who step high over and over, but a speed guy slides his feet. That's how he runs. A power back is high (legged), and picks his legs up. He doesn't pick his legs up. He slides. That's where the stability comes from."

Weddle agreed.

"He's got great lateral quickness, but his running style is the same when he's making a move or just running straight ahead," Weddle said. "It's always the same movement. It's unique in that sense. Rarely does he get his body out of whack where he can't run with power."

That's the nightmare of it. He's 215 pounds of pure nastiness when he comes rolling up on a defender. It's not so much that you hit him as much as it is he hits you.

"I'm grimacing now just thinking about trying to tackle Marshawn Lynch," said Peterson, who missed a tackle on Lynch's big run late in the season against the Cardinals. Some called that one of the great runs of all-time, and it was certainly special.

It was vintage Beast Mode.

"You feel it when you tackle him," Shields said. "I had one in our last game (NFC title game), where I had to hit him and when I did it was kind of like, 'Uhh,'" Shields said. "I held on and waited for Clay (Matthews) to come over and help. He's a big load, hard to stop. You feel it when you hit him."

Beast Mode. Train Mode. Truck Mode.

It's all the same, and as some of the best defensive players in the league attest, it hurts no matter what you call it.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an... Full Bio

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