|Michael Roos teams with David Stewart to give the Titans a solid foundation. (Getty Images)|
In the NFL certain combinations of reliable players can give coaches a tremendous advantage. A pair of offensive tackles that can pass block and not give up sacks means five receivers can get out when the coach so desires, or at the very least keep the quarterback upright.
In 2011 there were close to 450 sacks given up by tackles in the NFL, which equates to 14 per team, per pair of tackles. Tackles have a tough job. In fact, 28 of the thirty players that gave up sacks last season were offensive tackles, which is more than understandable when you consider just how difficult the job is in the NFL.
The reality for offensive tackles in passing situations is that they have the most significant mismatch in their athletic ability to the man they have to play against. The top pass rushers in the NFL are capable of sub 4.7 40 times, have great quickness, while offensive tackles usually are the slowest athletes on a roster. Consider that cornerbacks and wide receivers have similar athletic abilities, as do running backs compared to linebackers and safeties compared to tight ends. It just isn't like that for offensive tackles.
When it comes to offensive tackle tandems, in my opinion here are the five best teams in the NFL heading into the 2012 season. You may be surprised at a few of the groups to make the list.
|Kirwan's Top 5 Offensive Tackle Tandems from 2011|
|TEAM||PASS PLAYS||STARTING OT SACKS||GAMES||RATIO|
|Tennessee||608||Roos-2, Stewart 3.5||31||1:111|
|New England||644||(Light retired-3) others-7.5 Volmer, Solder, Cannon-||18||1:61|
Quarterback play, protection calls and frequency of pass plays called all play into the tackle tandem's ability to function. In the end, the biggest issue is this: Can your tackles block the rush? Any time a tandem of tackles can prevent a sack at least every 65 pass plays they are doing well.
Keep an eye on the following teams. Houston gave up on right tackle Eric Winston, and now the Chiefs are looking to capitalize with Brandon Albert on the left and Winston on the right. That should provide a tandem that gives up no more than one sack every 65 pass plays.
The Eagles may have lost Jason Peters, but they quickly grabbed Demetress Bell from the Bills. Bell gave up half a sack in six starts in Buffalo last year and teams up with Todd Herremans on the right, who gave up four sacks. The Eagles called 586 pass plays last year and their starting tackles gave up a sack once every 90 pass plays. It should be close to that again this year. Of course, with Peyton Manning at quarterback, Broncos tackles Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin will look a lot better than they did past year and should have a ratio close to one in 90 attempts.
Teams that must improve the production of the tandem of starting tackles based on last year's results include Jacksonville (25.5), Miami (20), which had a right tackle problem, Washington (20), where RG3 should help, and Dallas (19). I was surprised to see Tyron Smith and Doug Free both gave up 10 apiece.
Chicago (19) will improve with the Mike Tice offense and a lot less deep quarterback drops. J'Marcus Webb was blamed for the most sacks in the NFL last year with 14 and he's a better player than that.
Inside players (guards and centers) tend to have much better production in this area. The best of the best -- Eagles guard Evan Mathis, Chargers center Nick Hardwick, Bengals center Kyle Cook and Ravens center Matt Birk -- got the job done in 2011 and will do it again in 2012. They deserve to be recognized as the unsung heroes of pass protection. Other than Mathis, who missed one game, the other three started every game. And as a group, they gave up a grand total of one sack in 2,979 pass plays.
Finally, as one offensive line coach said to me this week when discussing tackle tandems: "With two good tackles, the defense will stop moving premier pass rushers around looking for a matchup, running backs like Chris Johnson can get out into the passing game, tight ends can be more like big wide receivers in the slot, and most importantly your starting quarterback has a good chance to play all 16 games. Aren't those the things every team is looking to do in 2012?"