There's a reason why left tackles make a lot of money. They are asked to block premier pass rushers all by themselves.
In professional football, the largest difference in athletic ability is between the left tackle and the pass rusher from the defensive right side. Wide receivers and corners can both run, linebackers and running backs both have power and close to 4.6 speed, offensive guards and defensive tackles both wrestle with each other in the 300-pound range, but the left tackle runs in the 5.2 range and the pass rusher is typically in the 4.6 range.
Left tackles don't get a lot of sleep the night before a game that features a double-digit pass rusher on his side. The blind-side blocker first has to master protecting the quarterback in his six division games, and keep in mind the pass rusher knows that division blocker like the back of his hand.
After that, the remaining schedule can present major problems for left tackles, especially on the road. Throw in the penchant that some coaches have for throwing the ball a lot, and quarterbacks who have limited escape skills or are undisciplined in their escape techniques can be a living nightmare for many left tackles.
I took a look at every projected starter at left tackle this year and whom they are up against as well as all the other factors mentioned above to determine the tackle from each division who has the toughest job in 2013 and ranked them from 1 to 8 in degree of difficulty for the whole season.
Brown did not play in 2012 because of injury, and he returns to a new offense with Bruce Ariens' big emphasis on the passing game. The division pass rushers whom he faces include Aldon Smith (19½ sacks last season), Chris Clemons (11½ sacks) and Robert Quinn (11½ sacks). That is 41½ sacks from three division rushers, the most that any left tackle faces from division opponents. Beyond that, he also faces Charles Johnson, Robert Mathis and Osi Umenyiora among others. Based on Ariens' play-calling last year and the addition of Carson Palmer, Brown could be asked to pass block 37 times a game. And if the Cardinals are playing a lot of catch-up football, it could be more than 40.
Reiff is making the permanent move to left tackle now that Jeff Backus has retired, which isn't easy. The Lions throw the ball more than any other team in the NFL and last year averaged 47 pass plays a game. On top of that is the reality that he has to block Jared Allen (12 sacks), Clay Mathews (13 sacks) and Julius Peppers (11½ sacks) twice each. If the Lions stay true to their average, that means Reiff has to hold up for 282 pass plays against these three men. Outside the division, pass rushers whom Reiff will see include Brian Orakpo, Michael Johnson, DeMarcus Ware, Terrell Suggs and Jason Pierre-Paul. Maybe he should be the No. 1 left tackle with a tough assignment.
Starks comes over from Pittsburgh to protect Philip Rivers. He has to face Von Miller (18½ sacks), Tamba Hali (nine sacks) and who knows from the Raiders at this point. Starks moved to the third spot because of the rest of the schedule, which includes blocking DeMarcus Ware, Robert Mathis, Cameron Wake, Michael Johnson, Jason Pierre-Paul and Brian Orakpo. Rivers typically averages 36 pass plays a game, and it doesn't look like Starks is getting any weeks off with this schedule.
I really liked Adams as a right tackle when I evaluated him in college, especially as a run blocker. He is scheduled to start on the left side, where he will see his old teammate, James Harrison, or Michael Johnson (11½ sacks), Elvis Dumervil (11 sacks) or Terrell Suggs, and Jabaal Sheard (seven sacks) or Barkevious Mingo. If he survives that group, the rest of the schedule is headed by Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, Clay Matthews and Cameron Wake. Ben Roethlisberger usually averages 37 pass plays a game, and he takes a lot of sacks. This is a tough situation for Adams.
Peters missed last year with an injury, and he returns to a team with a desire to have an up-tempo offense. One of the Eagles' linemen told me the pace will be tough on the linemen who are not in great shape. Peters might be in for a rude awakening. In division, he has six games against DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul and Brian Orakpo. Outside the division, he faces Von Miller, Clay Matthews, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers. There are big differences with the quarterbacks in Philadelphia. If Michael Vick is under center, no one knows where he will attempt to escape, and he has been sacked 272 times in his career or once every 12 attempts.
Monroe is an underrated pass blocker, and the division rushers whom he faces -- Whitney Mercilus, Robert Mathis and Kamerion Wimbley -- only generated 20 sacks last year. With Maurice Jones-Drew back, things should be more balanced in the run pass ratio, which also helps, but the rest of the schedule and the reality that they have to play from behind make his job very tough. Monroe will have to stop the pass rush of Aldon Smith, Von Miller, Chris Clemons and Tamba Hali among others.
Ferguson is fine pass blocker, but there are issues surrounding the starting quarterback. Will it be Mark Sanchez, and for how long? Will Geno Smith get rid of the ball when he plays? All of that is up in the air, but what is already known is he has to block Cameron Wake, Mario Williams and Rob Ninkovich a total of six times. Last year, those three men totaled 33½ sacks. Also on the schedule are pass rushers Michael Johnson, Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil, Charles Johnson all on the road.
Penn is a solid left tackle, but he did give up 5½ sacks last year. The division isn't like blocking the NFC West or North, and he should more than hold his own against Junior Galette, Martez Wilson, Osi Umenyiora and Charles Johnson. Johnson has one sack against the Bucs in his last six games against Tampa Bay. The remaining schedule is where his big battles will be as he faces Chris Clemons, Cameron Wake, Mario Williams and Aldon Smith.
Bryan Bulaga, Packers: Bulaga moves to the left side for the first time as a pro on a team that averaged 37 pass plays a game and a quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) who has been sacked 232 times in his career or once every 13 pass plays. Bulaga faces Jared Allen, who has 15 sacks against Rodgers in his past nine games.