Steelers 2011 Big Money Guys: OLB LaMarr Woodley's Absence Crushed Pass Rush

BALTIMORE MD - DECEMBER 05: Wide receiver Donte' Stallworth #18 of the Baltimore Ravens is tackeled behind the line of scrimmage by linebacker LaMarr Woodley #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter of the game at M&T Bank Stadium on December 5 2010 in Baltimore Maryland. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley turned a quick corner on Patriots RT Sebastian Vollmer and squared his shoulders around the edge. He had the angle, and he had Patriots QB Tom Brady in his cross-hairs.

There would be no escape. Woodley had about five steps to his third sack of the game. There was 5:44 left in the third quarter.

Accelerating to full speed, Woodley suddenly pulls back a little bit, favoring his right leg, and drops like he just got picked off by a sniper. Brady, flushed to his left by Woodley, completes a pass for a first down to WR Deion Branch, avoiding what could have been a vicious hit from behind.

Woodley, the man who through seven games, two quarters, nine minutes and 16 seconds, racked up nine sacks, laid on the Heinz Field turf on all fours, victim of the dreaded hamstring pull.

A few months before that, Woodley made the biggest splash of the Steelers' offseason by inking a six-year, $61 million deal with the Steelers, not long after the Steelers had placed the franchise tag on the young and emerging pass rusher. With $22 million of that guaranteed, and $13 million due in his first season, Woodley was among the game's highest paid players in 2011.

And if not for the nagging hamstring injury, he could have been in contention for Defensive Player of the Year.

Hamstrings are difficult muscles to rehabilitate after injury. The amount of force needed to turn a corner, push off quickly and accelerate is enormous, particularly if that muscle is damaged already. They take a while to heal, and time isn't something NFL players have during the season. Woodley didn't see the field much after that game, and his presence was missed.

Badly.

The Steelers had 48 sacks in 2010, and fell to 35 in 2011. Obviously that's not all on Woodley, but they gave him that massive contract for a reason. Woodley is one of the biggest 3-4 OLBs in football, and his main weapon is his size. While still giving up upwards of 60 pounds to your average NFL right tackle, Woodley constantly crashes into his blocker, usually with a two or three step head start, and physically batters them to the point of fatigue in the second half. He's also deceptively quick, and has a great nose for the ball carrier.

Simply put, the defense is just not the same with him in there. Thankfully for the Steelers, hamstring injuries are not chronic, they simply require ice and rest - two things Woodley shouldn't have any problem applying this offseason.

If he comes back 100 percent, and he remains in top physical shape, expect both his and the Steelers' total sack number to increase quite a bit in 2012.


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