By Matthew Marczi
Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers were soundly beaten by the New England Patriots in their last game, not everything is worth scrapping for the sake of starting over from scratch. Within that terrible collective effort were some individual performances worth taking a look at to see what it holds for the future, whether it is for the remainder of this season or beyond.
One thing that stood out from the game was the fact that fourth-year outside linebacker Jason Worilds had probably his most productive game as a pass rusher on the right side of the defense thus far in his career.
Yes, he notched two sacks during the game, and both of them come with caveats. The first sack came with him bluffing pressure and dropping into coverage before the rush drove Tom Brady into a lane of easy pursuit for Worilds, while the second likely should be split with Cameron Heyward.
There is more to it than that, however. Worilds gave Patriots left tackle Nate Solder a challenge throughout the night, perhaps in a way that he has not done on the right side before. Even when he did not generate pressure on a rush, he often forced Solder to have to recover and push him up the arc, as Worilds’ speed gave him a hard time throughout the night.
His speed on the Patriots’ first third down situation of the game, of course, was not an issue. As previously mentioned, Worilds faked pressure before the snap only to drop into coverage as Cortez Allen and Troy Polamalu rushed instead. The pressure drove Brady out of the pocket, and realizing that Shamarko Thomas had coverage on the shallow receiver, Worilds wisely took the opportunity to rush the quarterback, and picked up the easy sack as Brady gave himself up.
Right after consecutive completions to Rob Gronkowski for first-down yardage, Brady and the Patriots kept it in the air on first and goal. This time, they thought they could block Worilds with a tight end, but Worilds had the leverage and got the angle on Michael Hoomanawanui, forcing an early release and nearly knocked the ball loose in his hands.
For those who continue to choose to undervalue pressure, consider the fact that Gronkowski was left wide open in the right side of the end zone with nobody behind him. Were Brady not influenced to think on his feet and throw early, there’s a good chance he looks the other way and floats the ball up for an easy score.
But, of course, it never hurts to notch another sack, and Worilds registered his second of the game—both on third down—late in the third quarter to force a field goal attempt. This one is a pure speed rush on Solder. Once he won the corner, he was able to punch and release, showing agility to cut in on an angle and prevent himself from being pushed out of the play by the recovering left tackle.
In all, Pro Football Focus estimates that Worilds rushed the passer 21 times, registering two sacks and four hurries. That is a good day’s work for a pass rusher, and easily his most productive of the season. Against a timing-oriented, quick-release passing attack, it is worth noting. The question that Worilds must answer, however, is whether this is an aberration or a sign of things to come.