By Matthew Marczi
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley came into the 2013 somewhat under fire after spending the past season and a half slowed or sidelined by a series of injuries. The team collectively was forced to deal with a supposed locker room schism in which a player allegedly claimed that many on the team were frustrated with Woodley’s lack of fitness, which would have contributed to his ineffectiveness.
To exacerbate the issue, the injury problems all began only after Woodley signed one of the largest contracts in team history. Of course, nobody in the sports world is a bigger target than a player underperforming a shiny new contract, short of those accused of criminal activity of some kind.
Woodley got his 2013 campaign off to a good start in the offseason, however, by reporting in better shape and condition after training in Arizona with teammate Ryan Clark. Position coach Keith Butler took notice, saying that “whatever he did, it appears to be right”.
In the preseason, Woodley did not play much; in fact, every other outside linebacker on the team rushed the passer more than twice as much as he did, outside of course Adrian Robinson, who was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for Felix Jones.
Woodley had just 17 pass rushes during the preseason, but he made those rushes count, registering one sack and two hurries. That translates to a Pass Rushing Productivity figure of 14.7, second on the team only to Alan Baxter, who had two sacks and seven hurries in 39 pass rushing snaps.
In the regular season, Woodley’s figures have only improved. In fact, he is off to the best start of his career, and is on pace to have his most productive season as a pass rusher.
Through five games, Woodley ranks third in the league in Pass Rushing Productivity behind only Tamba Hali and Aldon Smith—the latter of whom is obviously currently otherwise engaged. Woodley’s rating of 16.2 is superior to the 13 rating that was good enough to lead the league in 2009.
Woodley has rushed the passer 94 times through five games, and has produced four sacks, four hits, and 11 hurries. Hali has eight sacks, four hits, and 39 hurries for a PRP rating of 17.8.
PRP gives a clearer picture than the raw numbers, of course. Hali has double the sacks and nearly quadruple the hurries, but he has 226 pass rushing snaps because, unlike Woodley, he is almost exclusively a pass rusher.
Thus far this season, Hali has rushed the passer on 85.9 percent of his passing snaps, whereas Woodley has rushed just 58.8 percent of the time. Only Calvin Pace (58.3 percent) and Manny Lawson (23.7 percent) rush the passer less often among 3-4 outside linebackers.