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Sunday, November 7, 2010
NFC West left tackles in Week 9 spotlight

By Mike Sando

The last time Chester Pitts started at left tackle in a game at Qwest Field, injuries and other considerations prompted his Houston Texans to use four combinations on their offensive line.

In the first quarter.

"You have to do what you have to do," Pitts said after the Texans' 42-10 defeat in Seattle five years ago. "They aren't going to cancel the game just because of an injury."

Those words ring true for Pitts' Seahawks against the New York Giants in Week 9.

Pitts becomes the Seahawks' eighth player to start at left tackle over the team's last 29 regular-season games, an unnecessary reminder of the value Walter Jones provided as a perennial Pro Bowl choice at the position. Pitts will be facing Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who leads the NFL with seven forced fumbles while ranking tied for second in sacks with eight.

Teams can help offensive tackles in protection multiple ways. Tight ends and running backs can help with blocking. Coordinators can call designed rollouts, moving the pocket away from potential trouble. Running the ball directly at elite pass-rushers can also help. But almost any offense at least occasionally asks its left tackle to hold up on his own.

How well NFC West left tackles handle the job Sunday stands as an important storyline.

Arizona's Levi Brown is the Cardinals' third starting left tackle in the team's last 11 regular-season games, succeeding Mike Gandy and Jeremy Bridges at the position. He faces Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen when the Cardinals visit the Minnesota Vikings for an early game Sunday. Allen's sack production has lagged this season. Bridges largely contained him when the teams played last season.

Brown has been stronger at run blocking than pass protection throughout his career.

That seemed to be the case against Tampa Bay in Week 8. I watched the game again Saturday night and made four notes on Brown. Two pass-protection breakdowns killed plays in the first half. A strong run block freed Beanie Wells for an 11-yard gain. Strong pass protection helped Derek Anderson complete a 25-yard pass to Early Doucet in the third quarter.

Allen, meanwhile, ranks tied for 119th in the league this season with one sack.

"I'm looking for him to have a bust-out game," Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said this week.