Linebacker Woodley hopes to make a comeback as pass rusher
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
August 1, 2013
You do not buy a vacuum cleaner to do an air conditioner's job. You do not have a Harley haul a boat. You cannot get a Doberman to be a lap dog.
And you should not often ask Steelers outside left linebacker LaMarr Woodley to drop into pass coverage.
Woodley, listed as 6 feet 2, 265 pounds, is built to stop the run, pressure the quarterback, sack the quarterback, obliterate the quarterback. He has done a nice job of it, too, rated No. 1 in 2009 by Pro Football Focus (PFF) doing just that.
He had quarterbacks quivering through the first half of 2011 with nine sacks in the first eight games. Since then, he's had four sacks in the past 1 1/2 seasons.
What happened to the quarterback meat grinder that was LaMarr Woodley? Injuries, big time, and something else Woodley mentioned Wednesday, something that helped conspire to keep him off the quarterback -- the Steelers defense.
"I felt I dropped back a lot last year in coverage," Woodley stated.
What? Woodley covering tight ends running pass routes instead of bringing the heat on the guy trying to throw them the ball?
"That's part of this scheme," Woodley shrugged.
True enough, Dick LeBeau long ago came up with the idea of the zone-blitz defense, and it has served the Steelers well. Part of the scheme is masking who might rush the passer vs. who might drop into zone pass coverage. That way, offenses can not load up against -- or play away from -- a defense's best pass rusher.
Kevin Greene, who has more official sacks than any linebacker in NFL history, bragged about his ability to drop into pass coverage with the Steelers. James Harrison was in pass coverage when he picked off Kurt Warner and ran 100 yards for a touchdown in the Super Bowl XLIII.
Harrison was rated by PFF as the most effective pass rusher in the NFL over the past five years. Woodley was rated No. 7 and would have been higher if it weren't for his ineffectiveness for one reason or another the past 1 1/2 years.
He went through terrible hamstring problems that virtually wiped out the second half of 2011 after that hot start. Last season, injuries to his hamstring and a high ankle sprain limited him. He said he feels "great" now after a different workout routine with a different trainer in the Arizona heat and is ready to resume his role as a premier pass rusher.
And don't the Steelers need one.
They lost Harrison when the sides could not agree on a reduced salary, and now he's with the rival Cincinnati Bengals. Their sack total plummeted from 48 in 2010 to 35 in 2011 and 37 in 2012, and with it some of the fewest turnovers totals on defense in their history.
Maybe it's time for them to play the zone blitz most everywhere else but let the left outside linebacker do his thing and sic him on the quarterback.
"I'd definitely like to get back to doing more rushing than dropping back in coverage because my game is predicated on sacks," Woodley said, "and this defense is predicated on getting to the quarterback, making quarterbacks make bad decisions and allowing our secondary to make plays."
That secondary made precisely six interceptions in 2012. Quarterbacks had more time to avoid forcing passes that might be picked off.
"Definitely here outside linebackers don't do what outside linebackers [playing in 3-4 defenses] do across the league," Woodley said. "I'm asked to drop more. Other linebackers across the league rush a little more than I do. When my number's called, I just have to make it count and get home."
PFF ranked him tied for 81st among pass rushers in 2012 in a statistic the respected site called "adjusted sacks." Miami's Cameron Wake and Denver's Von Miller tied at the top at 14.19. Woodley was at 4.29.
He missed only three games with his injuries, but missed portions of others including three-fourths of a Nov. 25 game against Cleveland when he left with his ankle injury in the first quarter.
"The ankle just took time to heal. Through the season when you have a high ankle sprain, you're struggling each and every day. In practice trying to push to get back, sometimes you set yourself back in practice and don't even know and you try to go out there in a game and you're not 100 percent."
He says he is that now and has shown it through the early days of training camp. He's anxious to see what's happening on the other side of the defense, where Jason Worilds and rookie Jarvis Jones are trying to replace Harrison. He hopes at least one can pick up the slack.
"It's definitely important. Here in Pittsburgh, the outside linebackers play off one another. When there's always two [good] outside linebackers here, they both had a lot of sacks, and they both helped the team out because you can't focus on just one guy, you have to focus on both guys."
That is, unless the opponent is afforded the luxury of seeing those pass rushers drop into pass coverage.
"They pay me to rush," Woodley proclaimed. "Hopefully, I'll be rushing and not covering receivers and tight ends down the field."
Where did he say his injuries were a result of dropping in coverage???
Originally Posted by Oviedo
And, quite frankly, if he'd like to drop less, he should win his individual matchups.
agreed, here's the rookie Le'Veon Bell stuffing Woodley...
Originally Posted by phillyesq
what was woodley dropping and covering last year, the buffet?
I hate how guys don't take accountability. I'm not saying he can't come close to his prime, but I hate when they (people in general, really) blame other factors for their performance, as he's doing. (Another recent episode I recall was, RG3 putting it all on Shanahan--this preseason and on the decision last year.)
In the case of Woodley... take responsibility! You became contented, out-of-shape, and hence--you got injured.
He didn't rush the QB as much last year because when he did he never even got close to said QB. We should have rubbed the footballs with some steak then maybe he would have found the quarterback.
LaMarr Woodley: Steelers scheme kept my sacks down in 2012
Posted by Josh Alper on August 1, 2013
After some criticism that his offseason conditioning work wasn’t up to snuff early in the offseason, the Steelers feel linebacker LaMarr Woodley is “where we need to have him” in training camp.
Those complaints came with the implication that Woodley’s injury issues and paltry sack totals last season were because he wasn’t in good enough shape and that a more diligent offseason will eliminate those issues. Woodley thinks there’s another reason in addition to injuries why his pass rushing production dropped, however, and that’s the role he was asked to play in the Steelers defense.
In defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s zone-blitz heavy scheme, Woodley is sometimes asked to drop into pass coverage rather than get after the quarterback. Woodley feels he was asked to do that too often in 2012 and hopes that won’t be the case again this season.
“I’d definitely like to get back to doing more rushing than dropping back in coverage because my game is predicated on sacks and this defense is predicated on getting to the quarterback, making quarterbacks make bad decisions and allowing our secondary to make plays,” Woodley said, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
With James Harrison gone and a battle on to replace him at the other outside linebacker spot, the Steelers will be leaning more heavily on Woodley in 2012 however they choose to use him. Letting him loose to do what he does best would seem to be the best thing for both him and the team, so we’ll see if LeBeau heeds Woodley’s call once the season gets underway.
Whoa! Careful now the scheme can't be questioned not even by a player who is part of it. Why give any credence to a player who wants to attack the QB when we can be 'occupying blockers" and "tackling the catch"
Originally Posted by hawaiiansteel
Yeah! LeBeau's scheme is a waste and has never contributed to the Steelers' success!!!
Originally Posted by Oviedo
No one is saying LeBeau never contributed to the Steelers success. It is a fair question to wonder why pass rushers are dropping into coverage more, especially when the defense had trouble getting sacks and forcing turnovers.
Originally Posted by Slapstick