By Matthew Marczi
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is being asked to do more for the team than he ever has, now that he is being counted upon to generate the majority of the team’s pressures, or so it seems. Fellow outside linebackers Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones still have a long way to go to catch up to Woodley’s level as a pass rusher, which continued earlier this week against the Baltimore Ravens.
But Woodley really had a fairly diverse evening on his hands and gave the team a variety of winning plays. While he may not have had his finest game against the run (it was neither particularly bad nor good), his overall performance was certainly a key contribution to a winning effort. That included his first batted pass of the season, which came on the first defensive play of the game.
His biggest play of the day, however, was probably the sack that he registered on a key third down, with the Ravens just on the cusp of field goal position—especially with Justin Tucker, a kicker with range.
It goes without saying, of course, that this play was a team sack, as Dick LeBeau schemed it so that he could get his pass rusher isolated against the running back, which in this case was Ray Rice. On the right side of the defense, Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward ran a cross that left the tackle with nothing to do, forcing the center to take on Keisel.
That left the middle of the offensive line wide open for Woodley to loop around Worilds, who was lined up over the right guard, and make quick work of Rice’s cut block attempt. The work of Worilds and Troy Polamalu prevented Joe Flacco from escaping the pocket, which allowed Woodley to track the quarterback down for the easy sack.
This play is a good example of a backside outside linebacker knowing his responsibilities against the run. He easily beats the extra lineman to the inside and chases the play while remaining disciplined in order to prevent a cutback, which, given the way the play developed, was probably a desirable option for Bernard Pierce here. But Woodley did not allow it, and he helped Lawrence Timmons wrap up the play for no gain.
Of course, if the sack was not his biggest play of the evening, this play certainly was, as his pressure on Flacco on third and seven forced a desperate throw that was admirably contested by the oft-maligned William Gay (thank goodness for him). Woodley easily ripped past right tackle Michael Oher before chasing after Flacco across the field. Although he was unable to bring him down, he completely disrupted the play and all but destroyed its chances of success.