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Starkey: Woodley and Harrison, please

| Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Chaz Palla
Titans quarterback Matt Hasselback is sacked by the Steelers' James Harrison and Jason Worilds during the second quarter Thursday October 11, 2012 at LP Field. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley sacks Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in the third quarter at Heinz Field Sept. 16, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
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Steelers linebacker James Harrison
Getty Images
PITTSBURGH, PA - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL, LaMarr Woodley of the Pittsburgh Steelers poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)

It's really quite simple: The NFL is a passing league, so if you want to hoist that sterling silver trophy, you better find a way to harass passers.

The Steelers know that. It's why they have approximately $113 million invested in their two quarterback hounds — James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. This defense just isn't the same without those two at full strength.

In other words, this defense hasn't been itself for quite some time.

Something's wrong when you look at the stats and see Jason Worilds and Larry Foote tied for the team lead in sacks with a measly three apiece.

It's odder still to see the Steelers, after recording just 35 sacks last season, on pace for 28 this season (12 in seven games). That would be their lowest total since 19 in 1988.

Woodley has two.

Harrison has one.

In a related story, the Steelers have forced just seven turnovers (four fumble recoveries, three interceptions). Only the Indianapolis Colts have fewer.

Sunday would be an excellent time for the wonder-twin powers to activate. Preferably in the Giants backfield, on either side of Eli Manning, who has been sacked a league-low seven times.

Thing is, neither Harrison nor Woodley appears to be near full strength yet.

Harrison, who had surgery in August to remove pieces of meniscus from his left knee, admitted after practice Friday that he likely won't be his old self until next season.

The admission came about during our conversation by his locker:

Question: “Is it frustrating to have it come back so slowly?”

Harrison: “It's not frustrating. I mean, I'm still at a stage where I'm not 100 percent, so I'm not really too worried about it.”

Question: “You're not 100 percent health-wise or conditioning-wise?”

Harrison: “Both.”

Question: “Will you get there this season?”

Harrison: “I don't believe you'll be able to get back to 100 percent, health-wise. Conditioning-wise, it's a possibility. Health-wise, you're not going to be able to because as soon as you get done with surgery, you start playing, and you know you're going to continue to deal with that little issue until the end of the season. When you finally get time to rehab it properly, you'll be able to get to 100 percent.”

Question: “Will we see the guy this season who blows up blockers and quarterbacks?”

Harrison: “That's what we're working to get to.”

Question: “Are you confident we'll see that guy?”

Harrison: “I don't see why not. A guy that's not 100 percent can still be destructive.”

At the far other end of the room, Woodley was coming off his first practice of the week. He's been nagged with hamstring problems again, though on a different leg than last season.

Woodley said he's still sore mostly because he stretched his right leg so much in rehab. He can't wait to celebrate over a quarterback with Harrison again.

“Even at less than 100 percent, we can play,” Woodley said. “And if we're not able to play in certain situations, we'll rely on our backup guys.”

Right, but the backup guys aren't making big money to kill quarterbacks.

“Well,” Woodley said, “even when I wasn't a guy they were paying a lot of money to, it was still my job to go out there and get to the quarterback.”

Somebody better because if they don't, Manning will have his way against the Steelers. Just like his older brother did.

Sure, this team still plays solid statistical defense (No. 1 in yards allowed). But there's so much more to the job. Woodley said it best when somebody mentioned the yardage ranking.

“It's a different standard around here,” he said “It's not like other teams. Expectations are higher.”

The idea around here isn't just to hold yardage totals down. It's to harass quarterbacks and change games in a heartbeat.

The formula is simple.

Now if only the Steelers could recapture it.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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