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Why The Left Tackle Is Overrated

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Why The Left Tackle Is Overrated

Post  Big_Pete on Sat Aug 09, 2008 10:01 pm


Why The Left Tackle Is Overrated
By KC Joyner

Many of you probably are familiar with Michael Lewis' book "The Blind Side." It recounts a young player's struggles to adapt to his new environment. From a football perspective, Lewis paints a compelling picture of how valuable the left tackle is to NFL teams.

As excellent as Lewis' research was, after reading the book, I still had some doubt as to the real value of the left tackle. I understood how much it meant to Bill Walsh to have someone capable of blocking Lawrence Taylor. I also had a better understanding of why left tackles are paid so much. But I still didn't have a good sense of how much more valuable a left tackle is than, say, a right guard.

So, what is the real value of the left tackle? I dedicated the lead chapter of my new book, "Blindsided: Why the Left Tackle is Overrated and Other Contrarian Football Thoughts," to that very subject. In the book, I detailed both run and pass blocking analyses, but for the sake of brevity, I can summarize the run blocking portion by saying the metrics show left tackles by themselves don't have a significant effect on the running game.

That really isn't surprising, and it isn't the reason posited by Lewis as to why left tackles are paid a premium. Their perceived value is in the passing game, so I looked at the effect left tackles have by using pass blocking metrics derived from "Scientific Football 2006." Since I have the updated 2007 pass blocking metrics for "Scientific Football 2008," I thought it would be interesting to pair some of the comparative methods used in "Blindsided" with this past year's totals.

The starting point was looking at how many total sacks each team allowed and how many sacks the left tackle(s) on those teams allowed. Here are the 2007 totals in those categories.

Rank, Team, Sacks Allowed, Left Tackle Sacks Allowed
1. Saints 16 3
2. Bengals 17 5.5
T3. Browns 19 2
T3. Packers 19 4
5. Patriots 21 5.5
6. Texans 22 8
7. Colts 23 5.5
T8. Cardinals 24 1.5
T8. Chargers 24 8.5
10. Cowboys 25 1
11. Buffalo 26 5
12. Giants 28 12.5
13. Redskins 29 6
14. Titans 30 4.5
15. Jaguars 31 6.5
16. Broncos 32 3.5
17. Panthers 33 8.5
T18. Bucs 36 4
T18. Seahawks 36 5.5
20. Vikings 38 7
21. Ravens 39 2
22. Raiders 41 10
23. Dolphins 42 3
24. Bears 43 8
T25. Falcons 47 4.5
T25. Steelers 47 9
27. Rams 48 2.5
28. Eagles 49 10
29. Jets 53 8.5
30. Lions 54 14
T31. 49ers 55 10.5
T31. Chiefs 55 9.5

The rank column is important for reasons I will explain in just a moment, so please keep it in the back of your mind.

The next step was to look at the percentage of team sacks each left tackle gave up. The goal was to see which left tackles were weak pass-blockers in comparison with the rest of their team's offensive line.

The interesting part of the review came when I resorted the charts by the left tackle sack percentage but left the original team sack total rankings in place (the rankings I mentioned a couple of lines back). Here's what the chart looks like when resorted.

Rank, Team, Sacks Allowed, LT Sacks Allowed, LT % Of Total Sacks
10. Cowboys 25 1 4.0%
21. Ravens 39 2 5.1%
27. Rams 48 2.5 5.2%
T8. Cardinals 24 1.5 6.3%
23. Dolphins 42 3 7.1%
T25. Falcons 47 4.5 9.6%
T3. Browns 19 2 10.5%
16. Broncos 32 3.5 10.9%
T18. Bucs 36 4 11.1%
14. Titans 30 4.5 15.0%
T18. Seahawks 36 5.5 15.3%
29. Jets 53 8.5 16.0%
T31. Chiefs 55 9.5 17.3%
20. Vikings 38 7 18.4%
24. Bears 43 8 18.6%
1. Saints 16 3 18.8%
T31. 49ers 55 10.5 19.1%
T25. Steelers 47 9 19.1%
11. Bills 26 5 19.2%
28. Eagles 49 10 20.4%
13. Redskins 29 6 20.7%
15. Jaguars 31 6.5 21.0%
T3. Packers 19 4 21.1%
7. Colts 23 5.5 23.9%
22. Raiders 41 10 24.4%
17. Panthers 33 8.5 25.8%
30. Lions 54 14 25.9%
5. Patriots 21 5.5 26.2%
2. Bengals 17 5.5 32.4%
T8. Chargers 24 8.5 35.4%
6. Texans 22 8 36.4%
12. Giants 28 12.5 44.6%

This shows that many teams with bad pass blocking lines have very good left tackles, or they at least have left tackles who give up few sacks relative to the rest of the offensive line. For example: Miami, Baltimore and St. Louis all finished 21st or worst in overall sacks and allowed a combined 129 sacks, yet their left tackles were responsible for only 7.5 of those sacks.

There also is an interesting trend for some of the teams near the bottom of the list. Cincinnati, San Diego and Houston all finished in the top eight in sacks allowed, having given up only 63 sacks among them. That means that in general, their players were good pass-blockers. However, their left tackles struggled mightily, giving up 22 of those 63 sacks.

The conclusion I came to in "Blindsided" is that this occurs because defenses choose the path of shortest distance as often as possible when pass rushing. If the offense has a pass blocking weakness at any of the guard or center positions, the defense's plan always will be to target those players first because that is the quickest route to the quarterback. That's what happened in the cases of the Dolphins, Ravens and Rams.

When the up-the-middle option is not available because of good interior blocking, defenses then target the next-fastest route, which typically is around the left tackle. The Bengals, Chargers and Texans all had solid blocking up the middle, and that is why their left tackles were tested.

That latter example is the only case in which a really good pass-blocking left tackle helps, but it still doesn't take an elite left tackle to win the Super Bowl. For proof of this, just look at the Giants and their left tackle last year, David Diehl. He gave up 12.5 sacks, the second-most by any left tackle, and New York still was able to go all the way.
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