Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have released linebacker James Harrison it will be up to fourth-year linebacker Jason Worilds to fill his shoes at the right outside linebacker position. Those shoes are large ones at that.
Pro Football Focus recently posted about the future of Harrison following his Saturday release and they highlighted his strengths and weaknesses moving forward. As far as his ability to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks last season, Harrison had a steep drop-off. According to their stats he only had a 9.52% pressure rate in 2012 and that was 7.48% less than it was in 2011.
In defense of Harrison, it took him a while to get up to full speed last season after being sidelined during the off-season and preseason because of his knee. Over the course of the last 7 games, however, he only produced a pressure rate of 10.1%, and that included 5 of the 6 sacks that he registered all season.
So how did Worilds stack up in that stat? He produced a 9.64% pressure rate in 2012. Being as we gave Harrison a pass early on in the season, Worilds also deserves a pass for the first 3 games of the season, as he too missed time in the off-season and preseason due to his wrist. From Week 5 on, Worilds produced a 10.95% pressure rate and 4 sacks. Keep in mind that all of those snaps came on the left side as he was filling in for an injured LaMarr Woodley.
As you can see, both Harrison and Worilds produced pretty much the same from a pressure rate standpoint all season long, albeit mostly from different sides.
So what about run defense for both players? As PFF points out in their post, Harrison had a 9.10% stop percentage in 2012. Worilds, on the other hand, had a 5.0% stop rate percentage last year. A stop is quantified by them as a tackle that prevents an offensive success (defined as gaining 40% of required yardage on first down, 60% on second down, and the entire required yardage on third or fourth down).
Those stats tell you that this is an area that Harrison has continued to excel in and one that Worilds will certainly need to improve in moving forward.
I must disclaimer here that all of the stats used above could be construed as being very subjective, but when you go back and watch all of the games from last year, you will likely come to the same conclusion as all of these stats tell you. Basically, not enough pressure from any of the outside linebackers and that Worilds needs to improve against the run.
To close, Worilds needs to improve not only against the run, but his pressure rate needs to be that of Harrison a few years ago. Basically around 16% or higher. It goes without saying that Woodley needs to return to his 2010 form as well.
2013 is a very important year for Worilds as it is a contract year. Should he pick up where Harrison left off in 2011, he will likely get paid. If he doesn\’t, he will more than likely be gone. The Steelers defense revolves around getting pressure and sacks from their outside linebackers, and the last two seasons the group has collectively not produced enough of either.