By Matthew Marczi
LaMarr Woodley did not register a sack for the second straight week after reeling off one per game for five straight weeks, but that doesn’t mean that he failed to bring the pressure when presented the opportunity. In fact, he probably would have had a sack had Cameron Heyward not gotten to Tom Brady first.
A week after adding four more quarterback pressures to his season total—including a quarterback hit—Woodley is in fact still on a career-best pace in terms of his ability to rush the passer.
According to Pro Football Focus, Woodley has registered five sacks, six hits, and 19 hurries through the first half of the 2013 season. That does not quite compare to the 60 total pressures, including 10 sacks, from Tamba Hali, or the 12 sacks and 34 other pressures of Mario Williams, but the raw numbers do not tell the full story.
The difference between Woodley and other pass rushers such as the aforementioned, Robert Mathis, or Terrell Suggs is in the category in which the Steelers outside linebacker ranks near the bottom: pass rushes.
As I have written about multiple times in the past, Dick LeBeau’s outside linebackers rush the passer significantly less than the average. In fact, on the year, of the 23 3-4 outside linebackers that have logged at least 50 percent of the team’s snaps, Woodley ranks 23rd, behind only New York Jets linebacker Calvin Pace.
Woodley rushes the passer just under 21 times a game, having done so 166 times through the team’s first eight games. Williams? He has already rushed the passer 320 times in the nine games the Buffalo Bills have played—over 35 times a game.
That is because the Bills rush Williams against the passer on an utterly astounding 97.6 percent of his passing snaps—or all but eight of them. LeBeau sends Woodley on the hunt a mere 65.9 percent of the time. Yes, Woodley’s 166 pass rushes have come on 252 passing plays.
In fact, if you take all players at the position that have logged 25 percent of the team’s snaps, his pass rush percentage would rank 32rd out of 38 players, above only such pass-rushing luminaries as Manny Lawson, Pace, and Courtney Upshaw.
Despite the significantly fewer opportunities than most pass rushers, however, the difference between Woodley and ‘most’ is that he has been making the most of his opportunities. His 30 pressures on 166 rushes equates to a pressure every 5.5 attempts, or over 18 percent of the time.
Mario Williams generates pressure on only 14.4 percent of his rushes. Tamba Hali? He is the only player in the league going at a better clip, ringing up pressure on 18.3 percent of his rushes.
LaMarr Woodley led the entire league in Pro Football Focus’ Pass Rushing Productivity category in 2009 with a score of 13.0. A year later he finished second with 12.9. In 2013, his PRP stand at 14.3. For comparison, James Harrison had a score of 13.0 when he broke the franchise record with 16 sacks and finished the season as the Defensive Player of the Year.
Because he is not racking up the eye-popping sack totals, it may not seem as though Woodley is playing in form. The lack of multiple-sack games also lends credence to that idea. But the truth of the matter is that, from a pure pressure-generating standpoint, Woodley may never have been better.