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.
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