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Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Outside Linebackers

By Alex Kozora

A Pittsburgh Steelers player by player recap, grouped by position, reviewing the 2013 season. Today, a look at the outside linebackers.

Jason Worilds: Worilds finished the year with a team-leading eight sacks. But it was a tale of two separate seasons. Throughout the first half of the season, Worilds was extremely quiet, notching just one sack in his first seven games. Following the Oakland Raiders’ game, the week before he began his tear, I wrote this about him,

“Jason Worilds hasn’t been much better at generating pressure than Jarvis Jones. Only time either one of them wins is in obvious mismatches, be it on a poor blocking TE or a running back.”

Part of that was inconsistent playing time seeing action at both linebacker spots until LaMarr Woodley’s injury. He didn’t begin playing nearly every snap until Week 7 against Baltimore, roughly a third of the way into the season.

From there, he took off. Worilds racked up sacks in five of the last eight games and seven QB takedowns over that span. He showed excellent bend around the edge, capable of dipping his shoulder and getting under the tackle. An example of his bend from Week 3 versus the Chicago Bears.

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Also has an inside spin he’ll counter with. Unlike Jarvis Jones, Worilds rarely gets pushed up the arc and will counter or convert a speed rush to bull to avoid getting taken out of the play.

He is not elite against the run but did an “above the line” job. Liked his hustle to chase down runs from the backside.

And because he started the season coming off the bench, he has valuable experience at both linebacker spots. Following LaMarr Woodley’s return, Worilds became the left outside linebacker.

A lot of good from Worilds who showed why he was selected in the second round. The issue has now turned to whether or not the team should keep the former Hokie and if so, how to do so financially. The second part has a relatively easy answer. The first brings up some questions.

Statistically, Worilds was a much better pass rusher when facing right tackles than left. Not a ground-breaking statement by any means but there is a large disparity. Only two of his eight sacks came from ROLB. Six came from LOLB. The final two from him being lined up over the line, usually on some sort of twist. Do you pay a player good money if he hasn’t shown much success against a team’s best pass blocker?

If the team is going to pay Worilds, it won’t be cheap. Paul Kruger signed a 5 year, 40 million deal last offseason after posting similar numbers (Kruger had nine sacks in his final season with the Ravens). Worilds will likely ask for a bit more, somewhere in the 5/45 range. He won’t get a mid-range deal.

It’s risk assessment. While true of any position, Worilds could regress next season and record a fraction of the sacks he did. It happened to Kruger who had just 4.5 sacks, even in Ray Horton’s aggressive defense. Connor Barwin fell from 11.5 to 3 over consecutive seasons. Sacks are a tricky stat and you’re paying Worilds for essentially eight weeks of play. I don’t blame the team if that makes them a bit gun-shy.

There have been a fair share of busts at outside linebacker but on the whole, the Steelers have churned out linebackers that put up big sack numbers for 20 years. This was a team that saw Clark Haggans record 9 sacks in a Super Bowl winning season. Why pay a premium for a position you’ve seen so much success at? That isn’t the say all, end all, but a thought that should enter the discussion.

However, there is a way to pull off the deal and keep Woodley for one more season, avoiding any dead money. Kruger’s deal will be the baseline and the Steelers can map it out in very similar fashion.

Kruger’s first year base salary was only $715,000. He received a first year bonus of 6.2 million prorated over the length of his deal, all five seasons. Meaning his first year cap hit was a measly 2.9 million. Year two saw his base salary jump all the way up to 7 million.

In a mock contract I made up for Worilds a few weeks ago, he could receive a 5 year/45 million deal. He would receive a seven million signing bonus (Kruger got six) and a first year bonus of eight million. Set his base salary in 2014 to the league million and his cap hit would land at just under four million in that first season. Affordable. When Worilds cap hit jumps the following year (for reference, it’s 10 million in Year 2 in my mockup) it’ll be cheaper to cut Woodley than keeping him and the team will save money.

LaMarr Woodley: While Worilds was praised for his fantastic season, many Steelers’ fans became fed up with Woodley’s. No doubt, it was another frustrating one. Hamstring injuries have continued to dog him. He logged just 42 snaps after November 10th. The final straw, the one that sent him to injured reserve, came on an unusual and seemingly innocuous play – leaping to bat down a screen pass on the second snap against the Cincinnati Bengals. He pulled up lame and never returned.

Bad season, right? How quickly we forget about the first half of the year.

For the first seven games, Woodley was the team’s only source of pressure at linebacker. The team as a whole had just 11 sacks. Woodley contributed five of them. No other player had more than two. He was on pace to finish with another double-digit sack season.

Although from a purely statistical standpoint, offenses averaged 4.9 yards per carry when running off right guard or right tackle. And that’s after excluding Terrelle Pryor’s 93 yard run.

Still, he was dominate as a pass rusher. In my notes, I have him specifically noted as abusing Chicago’s Jordan Mills, Baltimore’s Michael Oher, and Oakland’s Matt McCants as a pass rusher. As is Woodley’s MO, he uses strength and leverage to bull rush lineman into the pocket.

He too showed the ability to counter to avoid getting pushed upfield. Inside spin against Buffalo that left the right tackle grabbing air.

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It’s fruitless to cut Woodley. Best to keep him and pay him to play for you, not potentially against you wearing another uniform. Fully expect him to return for 2014. Only after then will the discussion of releasing him make sense.

Jarvis Jones: I don’t think I studied a player more closely this season than Jones. While I’d love to say I’ve come up with a mystical, Greg Cosell-ian type of analysis, my conclusion is about the same as everyone else.

If Jones wants to succeed in the league, he must use his hands better, show more bend, and get stronger.

Rookie or not, one sack in 406 passes isn’t going to cut it.

We’ll come back to that. A look at the best aspect of his game. Jones against the run. It did seem to fade late in the year but it’s his strong suit.

He started the season with a bang, blowing up Chris Johnson for a loss for his first impact play. Granted, it was a result of Jones being unblocked on the play.

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Week Three against Chicago. Watch him get off the snap, leverage the tight end, play with proper hand placement, and walk him back. Forces Matt Forte to bounce the run to the outside for a gain of just one.

On the season, he held the point of attack well and proved capable of getting off blocks. Numbers back that up as well as teams averaged just 4 yards a carry running to his aside, below the team average of 4.3.

He showed value on special teams and played with pride. Most of his snaps come on kick coverage at L4. But liked the effort there.

The story here are his detailed struggles as a pass rusher. As mentioned, there are three major issues.

1. He doesn’t use his hands well, lacking initial moves or counters. The vast majority of his rushes are around the edge.

2. He didn’t show hip/ankle flexibility to get around the edge.

2. He lacks the strength to avoid getting pushed upfield, leading him to get run up the arc and taken out of the play.

An incredible amount of examples that’ll illustrate this that I can’t possibly use them all without this becoming a picture book. Truly a chronic issue for JJ. Yes, he’s a rookie but there are no passes in the NFL. Either you produce or you don’t. He didn’t.

The following three stills all came on different plays on one drive. Buffalo Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn just running Jones up the arc.

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Here, he has Dolphins’ left tackle Bryant McKinnie beat. McKinnie doubles over and Jones should be able to dip and rip past.

But McKinnie is able to push him upfield and take Jones out of the play. Also a contributing factor is Jones’ stiffness in the hips. Doesn’t allow him to bend to make the turn while maintaining speed/power. Gotta have hip/ankle flexibility to play the position. Yes, there was snow in this instance, but it was an issue all year.

Working against Joe Thomas, he showed better hand fighting and knocked the left tackles’ hands away. But couldn’t dip past and ultimately got sealed.

Not only does that take him out of the play, it can leave an alley for the quarterback. Looking back against Miami, Ryan Tannehill converts a third down by scrambling through the vacated spot Jones left. The outside has been pushed upfield and doesn’t contain the quarterback.

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If you look at the Woodley spin still above, you can see how his lack of counters hinder Jones. Most outside linebackers won’t futilely continue to run upfield if they’re sealed. They’ll counter inside or convert to a bull rush in order to contain the quarterback and generate pressure. Rarely was Jones countering. It was a one-trick approach – one that doesn’t get you very far at this level, save for the elite ones.

Perhaps being moved around less and being easier to account for in Pittsburgh than Georgia hurt his effectiveness. A lot of his pressures/sacks in college came off blitz schemes that were complex, even for the SEC. Not anymore. And he won’t get the freedom to move around like he did in college. Only the best players get that treatment. Jones isn’t one of them.

Is all hope lost? Not at all. And I was incredibly encouraged by his play in Week 15 versus Cincinnati. That is the type of game he needs to show every week.

No fluff here. Explode off the ball, get your hands into the chest of the left tackle, and drive with your legs. Run the tackle into the pocket. Tackle was able to finally anchor but Jones got his arms fully extended and made sure to win leverage.

Here again, Jones being the low man. Gets the tackle upright and is now in a position of control.

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That’s why it was so disappointed Jones became ill and was forced to miss the following week against the Green Bay Packers. I wanted to see him stack quality weeks. Didn’t get the chance to build off it. When he came back, he had to take on All-Pro Joe Thomas.

On a quick coverage note, it became clear that as the year went on, his role was simplified. It’s been made public he was briefly demoted due to assignment errors in coverage. One example being dropping into zone when it was man coverage versus two crossers. Wide receiver gets wide open.

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I’ve been as critical of Jones as probably anybody. And with good reason. But he can turn things around. I was a fan of him coming out of college and still am. Just need to see progress. Because if he can’t get stronger, can’t show better bend, can’t use his hands more actively, he will not succeed. Harsh? Yes. But there’s no sense in sugar coating it. Way the league works. Big offseason coming for the first rounder.

Chris Carter: If you’ve read my Week 17 breakdown of Carter, you know how I feel. At the risk of it becoming physically painful to relive what I witnessed against Cleveland, I’m just going to leave a link to my breakdown (hyperlink: http://www.steelersdepot.com/2014/01/breakdown-of-steelers-lb-chris-carter-versus-browns/ ) . Fair warning. It may be the worst football you’ve seen all year.

But I’ll also leave a .gif of him doing the waltz with right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.

Needless to say, any hope of Carter emerging as a pass rusher has been extinguished. If Keith Butler can’t work with him, who can? Carter is under contract and will be back in camp but it’d be no shock if he was cut. Bring in a new face.

Stevenson Sylvester: Sylvester was signed back to the team on October 9th. When active, he participated on special teams. He served on the punt and kick return units as well as playing on kick coverage late in the year.

His action on defense came in the final two weeks starting against Cleveland in Week 17. He logged 84 snaps over the final two weeks and did a decent job against the run. Offered little as a pass rusher though and did not play on passing downs against the Browns, being replaced by Carter.

Sly is a free agent and could get a one year deal to try to make the roster out of camp. But considering how the team was content without him for part of the season, he’s a dime of dozen player.

Jamaal Westerman: The former Bill and Jet was signed on December 17th following Woodley’s move to IR. He was active for the final week against Green Bay being used at L5 late in the game on kick coverage. He’s set to be a free agent in March. Odds are, he won’t be back.

Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Quarterbacks
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Running Backs
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Wide Receivers
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Tight Ends
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Tackles
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Centers/Guards
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Defensive Linemen

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