Tuesday, July 16, 2013

LaMarr Woodley Paramount In Returning Greatness To Steelers Defense

"Who are you to deny greatness? If you would deny it to yourself, you would deny it to all of Steeler Nation. And we will not be denied. GREATNESS AWAITS!" - Sony PlayStation ad. (Ok, but not exactly "Steeler Nation." Don't sue me, Sony!)

By the end of the 2012 season, James Harrison was playing some pretty good football. He started to resemble once again the disruptive force he used to be. He was the intimidator in a long line of intimidators. It was something the team had been lacking. It may also be the thing the Steelers will miss most next season now that Deebo is wearing Cincinnati Correctional Facility orange.

That is unless someone steps up and takes over the mantle of the bad ass. Because despite impressive statistics, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense wasn't the wet-the-bed scary hoard of ruffians they had been in previous (nearly 40) years. And that needs to change.

Change that needs to be spearheaded by LaMarr Woodley.

The initial problem to that end is that Woodley doesn't have the same disposition on the field that Harrison has. Harrison earned the nicknames "Deebo" (from the movie Friday) and "Silverback" for good reason. Woodley, on the other hand, has a slightly different demeanor and comes across more as Chief Bromden from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - you know the power is there, you've even seen it, but there just isn't the same fear factor.

And while the Steelers have drafted the man whom they feel can be a replacement in Jarvis Jones, and already have what looks to be a ready player in Jason Worilds, for the Steelers to bully themselves back to the top means that Woodley truly needs to next level his game.

Greatness awaits you, Mr. Woodley. And in one sense, it's closer than one may initially have thought.

The Steelers top all-time sacks leaders (via Steelers and NFL stats) through the 2012 season are as follows:
1 - Mean Joe Greene (78.5);
2 - Jason Gildon (77);
3 - L.C. Greenwood (73.5);
4 - James Harrison (64);
5 - Joey Porter (60);
6 - Keith Willis (59);
7 - Greg Lloyd (53.5); and
8 - LaMarr Woodley (52)

Just an average 2013 season from Woodley would put him ahead of Willis and Porter and into fifth place all-time in sacks for the Steelers. In fact, there is an extremely short list of pass rushers drafted by the Steelers (playing at least 48 games) who have as high of a sacks-per-game average (.626) as Woodley. He is also the Steelers' leader in sacks-per-game average in games started (.742) with 52 in 70.

This is also all in just six seasons, which includes the missing of nine games between 2011 and 2012 because of nagging hamstring and ankle injuries. As a point of comparison, the aforementioned Porter played 122 games for the Steelers. If Woodley does pass Peazy this season, he would have done so in at least 23 fewer games.

All of this and yet there is still the lingering feeling that Woodley has underachieved. That he actually fed off of Harrison's carnage as if he were a pilot fish eating on the leftovers of the host species.

Therefore, for his sake and that of the Steelers, more than "just an average 2013 season" is needed. And there is also more to the outside linebacker position than just getting sacks. It isn't just sacks, it's power and presence. In a word: fear. The kind of power that pushes back the line of scrimmage on running plays. The kind of presence that causes offensive linemen to miss a snap count or causes a quarterback to throw too quickly. The kind of fear that we know Woodley can instill.

Woodley had been just as dominant a run-stopper over his career as he had been a sack artist. According to FootballOutsiders.com, in 2010 Woodley ranked eighth in yards against per run play, and had a stop rate of 71% for a ranking of third. Respectable, if not dominant, numbers.

However, his production dropped precipitously over the last two seasons. The same website tracked his decline for 2011, but his numbers essentially nonexistent in 2012 in those categories. In his defense, though, Woodley was asked to drop into coverage a lot last year, doing so 35% of the time. Even so, questions remain for the other 2/3 of the time.

It is that 2010 Woodley, also the last year he had double-digit sacks, that the Steelers need to see reappear in 2013. Woodley turns 29 years old in November, and is under contract through 2016. Now is the time to reestablish relentlessness and intimidation in the Steel City, Mr. Woodley.

Greatness awaits.