Woodley, Deebo and other Steelers observations
Tuesday, September 09, 2008 | Posted by Neal Coolong
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Steelers outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley combined for four sacks in Sunday's 38-17 win over Houston.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub must have heard Harrison's agile footsteps in his sleep, and perhaps had nightmares of seeing No. 92 (Harrison) getting to him again. Woodley didn't help Schaub's rest much either, oftentimes beating up on newly minted $32 million man Eric Winston from the offensive right side.
Be advised, the team record of 24 sacks combined in a season held by Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene in 1994 as well as Jason Gildon and Joey Porter in 2000 is going to be challenged. Harrison, whom teammates call "Deebo," was credited with three sacks and a forced fumble; Woodley added a sack of his own, his first career interception and recovered the fumble Harrison caused.
This is the year of the linebacker in Pittsburgh.
It wasn't just those two, although they rightfully stole the headlines Monday morning. James Farrior looked quicker than he has in a few years, which says a lot, and was used consistently as a pass rusher up the middle. Second-year pro Lawrence Timmons charted a rate of speed unseen in the Steelers' inside linebacking unit in decades, if not more. He will likely wrest away the starting job currently held by Larry Foote but through no error of the seven-year veteran. It's a scary unit that's clearly at the top of the NFL.
But Pittsburgh's offensive line isn't good enough, right?
The Steeler offensive line apparently doesn't know it's supposed to be porous. Taking the place of departed guard Alan Faneca, Chris Kemoeatu played at a Pro Bowl level, helping pave the way for rejuvenated running back Willie Parker's 138 yards on 25 carries; moreover, Kemoeatu was a key component in Parker's two TDs.
Faneca helped Parker score twice all last season, and hadn't led him to a multi-touchdown game in one year, nine months and seven days (the last one was Dec. 31, 2006, at Cincinnati).
Despite giving up one of Texans defensive end Mario Williams' two sacks, Marvel Smith was at a high level all day; such strong O-line play gives the league pause for thought that, perhaps, the Steelers are early favorites in many of the games against quality opponents on their schedule.
And quietly, the Steelers are the only AFC powerhouse who are 1-0 with their starting QB playing in Week 2.
Going into the season, the gold standard for AFC teams started with New England, Indianapolis and San Diego.
That has changed completely. The Patriots won't dominate without Tom Brady, while the Colts looked bad in a 16-point loss to Chicago; meanwhile, the Chargers lost to a Steve Smith-less Panthers squad and the Jaguars' highly touted offensive line gave up seven sacks to a strong Titans team. If you're placing bets after Week 1, look out for Tennessee, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
Let's get back to reality for a second.
AFC North rival Cleveland, which Dallas trounced in Browns Stadium, hosts the Steelers in a crucial Sunday night game in Week 2. The height of expectations in Cleveland, and the rowdiness of its partisan crowd (unified in the fact they hate Pittsburgh, winners of the last nine between these teams), is more than enough for the Browns to steal a victory over the favored Steelers. Browns left tackle Joe Thomas is a few steps ahead of Duane Brown, whom Harrison abused in Week 1.
While the Steelers deserve to enjoy a decisive victory, their work is cut out for them; therefore, ignore the power rankings this week.