I was enjoying the discussion on whether Woodley or Ike were more valuable to our team defense, and when I started looking up some stats to make an argument, I ended up making this post, as it became too much to fit into a comment.
First off, the value of a second pass rushing LB in our system.
Since 2000, when Dick Lebeau became our DC, the Steelers have recorded 7 seasons with our starting OLB's each getting at least nine sacks. The other four seasons no one on our team got 9 sacks. Think about that, either both OLB's record 9 sacks, or no one does. This trend holds up till 1998, when Gildon threw down 11 and no one else had more than 4. Since Joey Porter was drafted we either have two dangerous pass rushers on the outside or no one gets to nine.
Lets look at the years we failed to get anyone with 9 sacks.
2003: Gildon's last year, after his career revival with Joey starting opposite him led to 34.5 sacks in three seasons he only records 6 sacks and it's obvious time has turned on him. Joey records 5 sacks, and Kimo leads the team with 8.
2004: Clark Haggans replaces Gildon as the starter, records 6, Joey gets 7 and A. Smith leads the team with 8.
2006: After Clark pulls off 9 sacks in 2005, and Joey rocks again, Clark drops back to 6 sacks, and Joey leads the team with 7.
2007: Joey is replaced by James Harrison, sack machine. In his first season he records 8.5 sacks, with Haggans contributing all of 4 (the same # as Woodley records in limited action). Woodley would start with James in 2008, and the two record 71.5 sacks in the next three seasons.
I know it's a limited number of years, but it's Dick LeBeau's defense, and that's how long it's been in place. Eleven seasons show that if you don't have a Porter to your Gildon, or a Woodley to your Harrison, you don't get the desired results.
If we are going to let Woodley go, we better be pretty confident our OLB in waiting isn't the next Clark Haggans. One last note; Haggans recorded 6.5 sacks the year before he got the starting job, that would be his 2nd highest sack total, trailing only the 2005 campaign.
Second question, Ike Taylor's value.
I've long maintained that our defense plays corners so differently than other teams that even the advanced stats do a terrible job of displaying our CB's value. Well, I think I can make a case for Ike, and for how our defense works.
Since 2000, when LeBeau's defense came aboard the Steelers have been ranked 9th or higher for defensive net yards per pass attempt (dyppa) all but two years. Eleven years, nine times in the top ten. Five of those years we were top 3, one more top five. (note that net yards counts sacks as pass attempts and negative yards)
The importance of the stat? Last year we were 2nd in dyppa, the Jets were 4th, the Packers were 3rd. After the recent attention for QB rating differential, perhaps yards per pass attempt differential should be looked at, as the Steelers and Packers were near the top in both offensive and defensive yards per pass attempt.
From 2000-2004 our defense recorded dpyya rankings of 9th, 3rd, 9th, 18th, and 5th. With Dewayne Washington and Chad Scott starting and Deshea Townsend as our third corner the Steelers held the fort pretty well from 2000-2002. 2003 Dewayne in his last season as a Steeler started a quick downward spiral that would see him out of the NFL in two years, and Chad Scott would miss four games and the next season would be his last with the Steelers, the dyppa dropped to 18th and the team went 6-10. In 2004 With 2 new starting safeties (Troy and Chris Hope) and Deshea Townsend starting at corner our dyppa ranked 5th and our defense overall was #1 in pts and yards.
Now we get to 2005, and the beginning of Ike Taylor's time as a starting corner. With Ike across from Deshea the Steelers posted the third best dyppa in the league. Ike starting instead of Willie Williams and Chad Scott is the only change our secondary went through that season.
2006 was a bad year for the Steelers, the second non-winning season in Dick LeBeau's tenure saw our dyppa drop to 16th in the league, Ike lost his starting job, Chris Hope was replaced by Ryan Clark, and Troy missed three games, the first time in his career he missed games due to injury. After that season Ike would pledge to come back in better shape, and he did.
2007 saw A. Smith only start 10 games, Troy miss 5 games, Ryan Clark miss 10, Tyrone Carter starting for 5 games and the Guaranteed winner himself A. Smith start 11. It would also see our dyppa be the best in the league. Remember I said dyppa includes sacks as attempts and negative yards, 2007 saw only 35 sacks for the Steelers defense but a 4.9 dyppa mark.
2008 put Woodley across from Harrison, Bryant McFadden begin starting games, and health to Troy and Aaron Smith. It saw our defense put up the #1 ranking in dyppa for the second year in a row, and a Super Bowl win. Unlike 2007, this team recorded 51 sacks and that fueled a 4.3 dyppa.
2009 brought us the Willie Gay experiment and Troy missing 11 games. The defense finished 8th in dyppa, a mark that was helped by 51 sacks.
2010 we finish off with the return of B-Mac, Troy Playing hurt and the depth debacle at CB. The Steelers posted the 2nd best dyppa in the league, and if you look at just passes, as opposed to net, we were #1.
In many arguments over whether our CB's are any good the point is made that Troy covers for our corners and that our pass rush is a big part of our pass defense. While I still find it hard to believe a healthy Troy and Woodley and Harrison could cover for crappy CB's, our stats above do a pretty good job of debunking the whole idea that Troy and our pass rush make our average-bad corners look good. Just look at 2007, Troy and Ryan Clark are replaced by Tyrone Carter and Anthony Smith, our pass rush puts up league average sacks and yet we lead the league in dyppa. Our run defense wasn't slacking either, allowing the third fewest yards and the second fewest attempts.
First look at 2008, with or without sacks we were #1 at dyppa. We win the Super Bowl. Then 2005, 6th without sacks, 3rd with them. We win the Super Bowl.
2004: OLB pass rush struggles, yet dyppa we rank 5th as a lot of people combine to make up the sack #'s. We go 15-1. Without sacks our dyppa is 2nd in the league.
2007: OLB sacks struggle again, the team turns in league average sacks yet our pass defense ranks #1 in dyppa.
While just defensive metrics can't measure the success of a team, dyppa has a pretty decent correlation to non-winning seasons, as our two times out of the top ten are also Dick Lebeau's only seasons here where we didn't post a winning record. OLB sacks do not trend with wins and losses, or do they greatly correlate with dyppa, even though they directly affect it.
Conclusions and observations:
1. Dick Lebeau is awesome. if you can consistently be one of the hardest teams to run against, and give up the least amount of yards per pass attempt you are not doing it right, you are doing as good if not better than anyone in the history of the game.
2. 2007 shows us that our pass defense doesn't have to have high numbers of sacks or even Troy to work at a very high level. 2009 showed us what a non-starting quality corner and no Troy can do to that same pass defense.
3. Five years without Ike we rank 9th, 3rd, 9th, 18th, and 5th. 6 years with Ike we rank 3rd, 16th, 1st, 1st, 8th, and 2nd. That 2006 campaign Ike took the blame and worked hard to not be a problem, I think it worked.
4. In years Troy missed games we went 16th (3), 1st (5), 8th (11), 2nd (2).
5. Self promotion warning: If you remember my "how we draft LB's" post, Clark Haggans was the slowest OLB we drafted to win a starting job for our team. He also sucked the life out of our OLB pass rush.
So does this help us decide whether Woodley or Taylor is more valuable? I think it shows that if we are going to replace Woodley we better have a good rusher, or Harrison won't be as effective, and it shows that Ike Taylor and even Bryant McFadden are a successful CB tandem, and replacing either of them (looks at 2009) won't be easy.
My vote is still to sign Taylor now and try to sign Woodley second. If we can't sign Woodley we have a year to test his possible replacements and a normal offseason to get a FA if they can't replace him. There's no way we can replace Ike in this shortened time, and this team is looking at a lot of older players trying for one more shot.
I love Woodley, I have a Maize and Blue "Guns don't kill people, LaMarr Woodley kills people" T-shirt. I hope we sign him and I don't thik we'll fully replace him if we don't. I also think this team is going to be rebuilding a dfense in a year or two and if we lose Ike now, this year. Let's give the old vets one more shot, sign Ike for 3-5 years and let him go out a Steeler.