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Steelers Coach Keith Butler Uses Run Direction As Reason Why LaMarr Woodley Stays Put On Left


There were a lot of people suggesting that Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley should move over to the right side when James Harrison was let go earlier in the offseason and I have been of the belief that wouldn\’t happen.

Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review asked linebackers coach Keith Butler if he considered that a possibility during the offseason, and while he said he did for a little bit, he ultimately decided to keep Woodley put because most offenses are primarily right handed as far as run direction goes.

“You want a big-bodied guy over there on the left side because offenses are notoriously right-handed,” Butler told Kaboly. “Most people run to the right, some people try to run to the left, but most run to the right, and we want a big body over there.”

Kaboly questioned Butler\’s reasoning by researching run directions of the top four rushing teams in the league last year in addition to the three other teams in the Steelers division. His conclusion based on his research was that what Butler said about most teams being right handed wasn\’t necessarily true.

To play off of Kaboly\’s research, I have pulled the 2012 directional rushing stats of the 13 teams the Steelers will face in 2013 and below are the results along with the percentages of runs to the left, right and middle.

As you can see, the Ravens, Browns, Vikings, Titans, Raiders, Patriots, Dolphins and Lions all ran more to their left than they did to their right in 2012. Considering the fact the Steelers will of course play the Ravens and Browns twice in 2013, that\’s 10 games out of 16 in which the Steelers will face teams that were more left-handed than right-handed in 2012.

2012 was an awful year for Woodley as he missed time with a hamstring and ankle injury. Injuries aside, how did the Steelers defense perform with Woodley in the game on runs to the right of center?

According to our charting from last year, offenses ran right of center on 102 plays for 422 yards when Woodley was in the game and that equates to a 4.14 yards per carry average. When you look at all of the rushing plays ran when Woodley was in the game, regardless of direction, the defense allowed 3.80 yards per carry as opposed to 3.55 when he was off the field.

Ok, so what about Jason Worilds? How did he fair at left outside linebacker against runs to his side while Woodley was sidelined?

We charted offenses running right of center 70 times with Worilds at left outside linebacker for 234 yards. That\’s a 3.34 average if you are scoring at home, which is much better than the 3.55 with Woodley in the game.

In addition, regardless of what side Worilds played on and what direction the running play went, the Steelers defense only allowed 3.46 yards per carry when he was on the field.

Kaboly was right to question Butler\’s answer as I don\’t believe he is telling the full story. Now, we have to keep in mind that Woodley was hurt last season and most likely not in the best shape of his career. Perhaps Butler just wanted to blow some smoke or perhaps he just didn\’t want to say that Woodley wasn\’t great against the run last year as his answer really doesn\’t past the litmus test.

In my opinion, Butler just wanted to keep things status quo and he didn\’t want to have to worry about one of his outside linebackers having to learn how to play on another side. This has been my argument against Woodley flipping all along. He has shown in the past he can be deadly on the left side as a pass rusher and I suspect him being 100% health wise in 2013 will help him in defending against the run as well.

TEAM TOT RUNS RIGHT RUNS % RIGHT RUNS LEFT RUNS %LEFT RUNS MIDDLE RUNS % MIDDLE RUNS
Ravens 422 162 38.4% 193 45.7% 67 15.9%
Bengals 405 156 38.5% 140 34.6% 109 26.9%
Browns 386 154 39.9% 166 43.0% 66 17.1%
Packers 414 171 41.3% 155 37.4% 88 21.3%
Lions 384 123 32.0% 124 32.3% 137 35.7%
Vikings 466 146 31.3% 147 31.5% 173 37.1%
Bears 450 194 43.1% 166 36.9% 90 20.0%
Titans 368 116 31.5% 125 34.0% 127 34.5%
Bills 431 138 32.0% 126 29.2% 167 38.7%
Dolphins 416 133 32.0% 160 38.5% 123 29.6%
Jets 483 145 30.0% 126 26.1% 212 43.9%
Raiders 367 139 37.9% 156 42.5% 72 19.6%
Patriots 507 166 32.7% 218 43.0% 123 24.3%

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About Dave Bryan

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • colingrant

    Butler was being kind. He knows Ziggy is a run-defense liability on that side. Pure and simple. Additionally, he might be inclined to thinking teams ran right due to the chunks of yardage given up on that side and directed at Ziggy. If anyone has the tape, just look at 1st half of the Cincinnati game in Cincinnati. The issue is Ziggy. Perhaps Woodley not being himself was the root cause, but Ziggy had problems stacking consistently. In fact, he might be a misfit in the Steelers system. I think he’d do better as a 4-3 DT or in systems with less gap responsibility.

  • Bong

    4-3 DT and all other systems have gap responsibilities. He would do better in a one gap system as opposed to the Steelers 3-4 Two-gap system.

  • Asmitty56

    That’s fine. But if Worilds or Jones causes a significant dip in run defense on their side, then the Steelers must start playing Woodley on the strong side, that goes for the DL as well. With Harrison, Woodley and Smith, and Keisel it was pick your poison. Now teams will thin, do we want to run at the 265 pound OLB with arms like legs and legs like people? Or do we want to run at Worilds/Jones?

  • Asmitty56

    Hood has “gradually” improved every season and through out each individual season. He’ll never be a Brett Keisel, let alone Aaron Smith. But I think he would make a good disruptor. I don’t see why that can’t have Hood and McLendon just punch through the middle of the pocket and have the OLBs clean up? At lest do it on pass rushing downs.

  • JohnnyV1

    Be interesting to see those same stats when Aaron Smith manned the left side.

  • VaDave

    Hey Bud, I’m going to have to disagree about Hood improving. I thought the first year he subbed for Smith he was better. The last couple of years he’s been worthless against ZBS or anything where he has to move lateraly. He will not fight through a double team at all. When that 3rd and 4th hand touches him, instantly, he’s on skates. If he was in a system where all he had to do was plug the gap right in front of him, he’s be great.

  • VaDave

    One gap is about all he can handle….

  • VaDave

    Actually, I still contend that play in and play out Worlids is a more productive linebacker than Woodley. One BIG difference, Woodley does have a knack for the big play. The game changing, key sack, pick, or fumble recovery. Kind of the Babe Ruth of the team hitting a grand slam.

    Everybody thinks of home runs when you think of the Babe, but the other side of the coin, he also held the career strikeout record over 40 years. I’m like everybody else and go ooo aaahh when Wood comes up with the big play, but in reality, the rest of the game, some 30 other plays he’s on the field, he’s not as disruptive as he could be..IMO of course..

  • VaDave

    While I will agree that Ziggy is an issue for sure, truth be told, Woodley has only averaged a little over 3 tackles a game for his entire career. When we put the two of them together over there, it’s asking for it.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Check the tape on the KC game to prove your point. KC pounded us on Ziggy’s and Lamar’s side play after play and neither one could stop it. Not a good thing when the LB coach calls out both the LOLB and then says the LDE has things he needs to clean up going into a contract year. By now he should have his technique down and not just be a youtube sensation in the weight room.

  • colingrant

    In the Steelers system (as I understand it) the outside linebackers are judged on there ability to stack and prevent ball carriers from getting beyond their outside shoulder. If they make a tackle, fine. Otherwise and ideally the defensive end has done the same, allowing the inside linebackers to make the tackle. Obviously this is a perfect scenario, but the Steelers have been remarkably good at this, which explains the high tacke numbers of the inside linebackers like Farrior in past year’s and Timmons in 2011 & 2012.. Outside guys are also judged on “pressures” in passing situations. Tacke numbers are gravy.

  • VaDave

    I hear you bro! I’ve watched not only last years game, but the year before, several times from tree different shots. If you really want to get grossed out, check out our opener against the Ravens in 2011.

  • VaDave

    Good post. . BTW, nice job of explain the funneling effect. You explain that aspect well, but the fact is, we are not doing it well when your DE is being knocked 5-6 yards of the LOS, and your LOLB is being shoved outside the numbers repeatedly by RBs and TEs. When you are giving up 4 + yards a run, that is not doing a good job. It’s a failing grade.
    I’ll agree that the LOLB has outside contain responsibilities, but for the run D to be truly effective, he needs to squeeze that edge and force the runner to make his cut sooner. Woodley seems to be passive a lot.

  • Asmitty56

    That’s because he hasn’t been productive the last two seasons. But before he was a force. Woodley plays OLB the same way our DL does. By engaging the OT and man handling him into the QB or pushing the OT into running lanes. Woodley’s doesn’t often disengage the OT and free rush the passer. A lot of Worilds production came from coverage sacks or when the QB was flushed to him. Worilds doesn’t seem to man handle OTs like Harrison and Woodley, his balance and leverage doesn’t to on their level either.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Yeah Ravens game 2011 was ugly also. it just seems like anytime a team gets Hood moving he can’t hold his ground. We didn’t realize just how valuable A Smith was….hope it’s not the same this year with Big Snack Casey gone.

  • VaDave

    Smitty, the little over 3 plus tackle a game is his career average. I’ll agree Woodley at times does not disengage from OTs, but he also has shown an unwillingness to disengage from RBs and TEs.
    As for Worlids, the numbers above say other wise. He may not be passing your eyeball test, but at the end of the day, he’s done a workman’s like job. As I said earlier, he’s not going to make the splash plays that Woodley has a knack for, but he is pretty solid.
    Anyway, we will see. I’m hoping for Woodley to have a great year. We NEED him to have a great year. Indications so far from camp is Jones is looking good, and maybe, Worlids is a short termer.

  • VaDave

    A Smith was the best ever strong side 3-4 DE ever. Nobody could control a gaps like him. Truly special.

  • colingrant

    Agree 100% Dave. I think Ziggy was better when he replaced Smith after Smith tore his rotator cuff a couple years back. We actually improved the run defense by a smidgen. Last year was subpar with respect to the Steelers standard of run defense. In fact, it played a significant role in our sack totals, as the design is 2nd and 8’s and 3rd and 7’s, forcing offenses into 5 step drop back passes. The deeper drops caused by longer down and distances gives the outside linebackers a greater chance at getting to the QB. And because of the predictability of passing situations caused by the 3 and 7’s or more, LaBeau’s entire blitz package is available for use. But …. It all starts with winning on 1st and 2nd down, and the Steelers didn’t win nearly as consistently as in years past. From my perspective, Ziggy was a huge part this. So much so, that I’m wondering if he was hurt.

  • hergieburbur

    If anything, the right handedness comment likely comes based off of us. We were criminally right-handed last season and everyone in the league knew it.

  • hergieburbur

    Hood belongs in a 4-3. He does not fit our defense very well at all.

  • colingrant

    You’re right. I know their were 3-4 games where multiple series would go by without the opposing offense attempting to run left. Sometimes when a fan is highly dissatisfied with a player, the fans objectivity is compromised by hyper awareness of each and every move the player makes. Maybe that’s what’s going on with my read on Ziggy’s play. I’ve had a couple of whipping boys over the years. Chad Scott has the distinction of heading this unceremonious list. :-)

  • VaDave

    RE: Undisclosed injury
    Good call. I hadn’t given that much thought but that would sure explain a few things. He just seems soft. We a re all aware or Woodley’s issues, but there was zip info on Hood.
    Colin,
    I got to tell you, you have this D down to a T. I’m enjoying the dialog. Do you think having McClendon stepping in for Big Snack will help Hood out?

  • SteelersDepot

    knee and back were giving him problems in middle of season from Raiders game on. Go back and watch when he was healthier at end of season.

  • colingrant

    Dave …. I wasn’t going to bring up 2011, but since you so graciously did the honors, I’ll oblige. I believe it was Xmas eve 2011 where Steven Jackson had 100 by halftime or shortly after. It sticks with me because I was driving fast from DC to Pittsburgh to catch the game and overran my turnpike exit forcing me to miss the 2nd half. I only remember 2 things;

    1) Bill Hillgrove saying repeatedly; Steven Jackson runs right with what appears to be a first down after a sizable gain.

    2) Trai Essex playing his best game as a Steeler, playing Center without much prep. Believe Mendy played well and Charlie Batch playing well. Can’t remember what happened w/Ben.

  • VaDave

    Thanks and will do.

    Additional Comment 7/31

    I looked at the last Cleveland game from last year, and you were right. He did play much better in that game. I’ll check out some of the others later. When do you think the injuries happened?

  • colingrant

    Dave……..I’m very, very curious to see how McLendon responds to being an every down player. Most of Steelers nation (me included) are hopeful and somewhat excited after seeing his productivity in limited time last year. Personally, I’d rather see him at Left Defensive End, (with one of the polynesians claiming NT) but he’s at NT for now and since Cowher’s came on the scene in 1992, the NT’s have been cut from the Casey mold. We’ve not had a NT like McLendon, so I don’t know what to expect.

    The question is, can he hold the point as Snack has done for a decade? LeBeau and Butler have repeatedly quoted, the DT is the most important position on the defense. They contend, the defense runs plays, similar to an offense, where Snack literally created holes designed for LB’s to shoot through. This has worked better than well for a number of years.

    Excellence at the position requires selflessness, stamina, strength, discipline and size. While being quick off the ball or shooting through gaps impresses, the question is can he play that way AND be effective in the Steelers “system”. While it’s easy to suggest the coaches should play to his strengths, then that would mean a significant change in the Steelers defensive philosophy. If he uses his quickness to shoot through gaps, it might be a great play on one instance, but a critical error on 3 other instances. An interesting situation which will reveal itself in time

    Disclaimer: Reposted from a previous thread on McLendon.

  • Asmitty56

    I won’t disagree that he is better suited in a 4-3. But if the Steelers used more of the big nickel 4-2-5 or adopted more of a hybrid scheme like the Ravens then it would help things. If that’s the case Heyward won’t fit well in this defense either. I don’t see why they would draft two 4-3 DTs in the 1st round and expect them to fit unless they start using hybrid fronts. College teams simply don’t run 3-4 defenses that often and almost all of our linemen would fit in a hybrid scheme.

  • Asmitty56

    It has to because the coaches are telling him to do so. Believing that Woodley could not simply ragdoll TEs and especially RBs is ridicules. Just look at him in back on backers, he doesn’t often get stopped. Like I said it seems to be like an OLB equivalent of a DE in this system where he engages and man handles the blocker into running lanes or back them up into the QB where he can disengage and get to the QB. If the Steelers ever do adopt a hybrid defense Woodley would make a perfect DE/OLB in that system ala Jarret Johnson or the Ravens current player holding that role Courtney Upshaw.You have to understand that Harrison had so many tackles because he would work in space a lot more than Woodley would. He would cut underneath the OT and get the RB on the backside. As for Worilds, his tape doesn’t really look all that impressive like I said mostly coverage sacks and such. What I do like about Jones is he uses leverage well for a man his size and is a natural hands fighter to keep himself clean from the OT rather than being the type to engage the OT and man handle him.

  • VaDave

    Smitty,
    I hate to disagree. The tapes don’t lie. I do agree, wholeheartedly that Woodley is capable of tearing running backs and tight ends a new one on a repeated basis, as he has on numerous occasions. However, IMO, he doesn’t as often as he should, and has been seen being shoved outside the numbers on a repeated basis, and not by offensive linemen. This is a major fail on his part. As you said, his job is to set the edge. When he’s going backwards, he’s not setting the edge.
    All that said, the team is thrilled with him and don’t seem to mind paying him his $65 million bucks. I guess that’s all that counts. Have a good one.

  • Asmitty56

    Would this tape be from the last two or so seasons?

  • VaDave

    Get yourself a subscription to NFL.com Game Rewind ($69). You can watch game tape from the last 4 seasons over and over again until your eyes go buggy. For the 2011 and the 2011 season you can watch the “Coaches View tapes. This is two shots of each play, one from above the line of scrimmage, and one from above the endzone. This is must if you really want to see what’s going on. BTW, to my point, the first game you want to watch is our opener for 2011. The end zone view is particularly illuminating.
    Enjoy.

  • hergieburbur

    Heyward played some 3-4 in college and he fits the 3-4 way better than Hood.

    I do see them using some more big nickel, but don’t expect more of a split like the Ravens use, we don’t really have the overall personnel for it.

  • Asmitty56

    Why don’t we? McLendon, Hood, and Heyward would all fit. Timmons fits. Woodley and Worilds would fit as DEs. Jones could play a bit of a Von Miller role. Just need another OLB. It wouldn’t have to be the base defense but just have it involved to get some production out of our linemen.

  • hergieburbur

    We don’t have anyone that fits well as an MLB (totally different role than what Timmons plays now), I don’t think Worilds could play DE in the NFL, though Hood probably could, and we don’t really have anyone with experience at OLB in a 4-3 on the roster. Jones played in a 3-4 at Georgia. Timmons is the closest thing to a 4-3 OLB we have, but then we are back to having no MLB.

    Keep in mind, this type of scheme change is not trivial. Look around at the other teams that have tried to do it, and how long it generally takes to do so successfully.

  • Asmitty56

    Why couldn’t Timmons play MLB? He has the size and athletic ability to play it. Is big enough to play the run and is more than comfortable in coverage and a pretty good blitzer. Worilds played DE in college and has similar size to Woodley minus the strength. As for Jones, yea it would be a bit of an experiment, but don’t be surprised to see Jones line up at ILB and rush from the middle to get our 3 pass rushers on the field. I think Jones can learn to be pretty good in coverage as well.

  • Asmitty56

    Remember it wouldn’t be the base D. Just a front thy show a couple of times a game.

  • hergieburbur

    Timmons is mostly awful in coverage, a big part of playing MLB. Last year was the only year he was half decent, the other years he was terrible. Why do you think we uses the Big Nickle so much against multiple TEs in the first place?

    Even with that, it leaves us with no 4-3 OLBs. I am not saying it can’t be done, but it is nowhere near the simple transition, even on a package basis, that you are painting it to be.

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