Woodley ends season with flourish

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
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Ask Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley about the difference between the first half of the season and the second, and he just sort of shrugs the boulders that double as shoulders.

"I can't even really say," Woodley said. "I'm just able to get in there a little bit faster."

A half-step is about the best explanation Woodley can offer as for why he has 9 1/2 sacks in his past seven games after notching just two quarterback takedowns in the Steelers' first eight games.

The third-year veteran has been the Steelers' most disruptive defensive player in the second half of the season. And his play Sunday is a major reason why the Steelers are still clinging to the hope that they get a chance to defend their Super Bowl title.

Woodley had 10 tackles as well as a pair of sacks in a 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

The 6-foot-2, 275-pounder batted a Joe Flacco pass into the air in the first quarter, leading to a James Farrior interception and the first score of the game.

Sack masters
A second-half surge has put Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley among the NFL sack leaders. Here is where he and teammate James Harrison rank:
Name, Team Sacks
1. Elvis Dumervil, Broncos 17
2. *Jared Allen, Vikings 13.5
Dwight Freeney, Colts 13.5
4. Will Smith, Saints 13.0
5. Trent Cole, Eagles 12.5
6. LaMarr Woodley, Steelers 11.5
7. Andre Carter, Redskins 11.0
Brian Orapko, Redskins 11.0
DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys 11.0
10. Julius Peppers, Panthers 10.5
11. James Harrison, Steelers 10.0
Aaron Schobel, Bills 10.0
*Prior to the Vikings' game Monday night against the Bears

Woodley came up even bigger when the Steelers desperately needed the kind of stop that has eluded them for much of this season. With the Ravens at the Steelers' 35-yard line late in the fourth quarter and trailing by three points, Woodley sacked Flacco on consecutive plays.

The second sack caused a fumble that defensive lineman Ziggy Hood recovered.

The Steelers ran out the clock, which allowed them to take an 8-7 record and playoff aspirations into their regular-season finale Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

"LaMarr's playing great," Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison said.

"He's a very gifted kid, and we need those big plays from him," added defensive end Brett Keisel. "He's one of those guys when he's out on the field, he's coming after you every play. I think he gets better each game."

Woodley, a second-round draft pick in 2007, is more than a third of the way to the Steelers' all-time sacks record held by Jason Gildon, with 77.

His 27 career sacks don't include the six he had in the 2008 postseason, including one on the Steelers' final defensive play of Super Bowl XLIII.

Perhaps the one knock against the former University of Michigan star, who made a seamless transition from end in a 4-3 defense to outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment: he can be streaky, at least from a statistical standpoint.

Woodley had a breakout season in 2008 when he notched 11 1/2 sacks. He didn't have any in the final four regular-season games, but rebounded in the postseason.

This season, Woodley, who turned 25 in November, went without a sack in seven of the Steelers' first eight games.

He has since wreaked enough havoc, and ranks third in the AFC in sacks.

Woodley said he isn't doing anything differently in the second half of the season, adding that he is taking advantage of the opportunities his teammates create for him and finishing plays.

"Everything is based on team," Woodley said. "Getting sacks is based on team and my teammates are doing a great job."

The same can be said for Woodley.