In the NFL, teams have to be able to pass the ball and stop opponents’ passing attacks to be successful over the course of a season. Teams now live and die on their trigger man’s ability to keep their offense moving down the field, and to do that, teams have to be able to keep their quarterback on his feet. Because of that simple truth, there are few more important offensive players than the man in charge of protecting a quarterback’s blind side, usually the left tackle.
In recent years, much has been made of the necessity to provide constant, consistent pass protection for passers. The argument is simple. If a quarterback has time in the pocket, he’ll be less pressured to force passes into impossible windows, and at some point, the secondary’s coverage will break down, leaving open targets across the field. Sure, the entire offensive line is an important unit, but a quarterback is completely exposed without a franchise left tackle.
Developments during the 2013 season are making us question the simple truth that teams absolutely can’t function properly without a great blind side guardian for their quarterbacks. Three playoff teams, the Saints, Broncos and Seahawks are all still alive in the postseason, and all three teams have suffered their fair share of problems at the position over the course of the season. The Saints are starting a rookie at the position after Charles Brown proved unable to secure Drew Brees’ blind side, the Broncos’ lost their star left tackle, Ryan Clady, early in the year, replacing him with the relatively unknown Chris Clark, and the Seahawks were forced to wait on Russell Okung to slowly get back to health for much of the season.
Not only were the Saints, Broncos and Seahawks successful during the regular season, they were actually the class of the field. The Broncos and Seahawks in particular were able to run through their schedules, facing relatively little resistance most of the time despite questionable blind side blocking. Peyton Manning was hitting the deck a league low 1.1 times per game. Russell Wilson didn’t fair nearly as well, going down 2.8 times per game, but that wasn’t enough to kill the Seahawks’ offense.
Too often, clichés can become blanket statements in the world of football. After all, it’s much easier to say that every team needs a franchise left tackle to be successful in the passing game, even if that’s not a completely true statement. There are an infinite number of ways to win games in the NFL, and simply protecting the passer and letting him pick apart the defense isn’t necessarily a requirement, but it does help.
If anything, the Saints, Seahawks and Broncos have pointed out an easy way to work around a lackluster offensive line. Brees and Manning are simply masters of their respective offenses. Rarely do you see Manning hold the ball longer than a few seconds, giving defensive linemen, or even additional rushers for that matter, the opportunity to actually get to him before the ball is out. Likewise, Brees often beats the defense before they have a chance to be disruptive.
Wilson provides another way of beating the pass rush without great protection. Unlike Manning and Brees, Wilson relies on his athleticism to buy additional time in the pocket. Sure, that results in more sacks because he’s often holding the ball much longer than Brees and Manning, but it also results in some huge plays down the field as well as long runs by the quarterback.
Is a franchise left tackle a necessity in today’s NFL? No, but it certainly helps. Every quarterback in the league would love to have all day in the pocket, every day, but that’s just not reasonable. The best quarterbacks in the league can usually cover up a lot of their team’s problems, especially on the offensive line, but unless you have one such player, having a franchise left tackle is an easy way to take pressure off the quarterback, allowing the offense to function more efficiently.