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Decline of Steelers' Woodley puzzling

| Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, 7:02 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
The Steelers' Chris Carter (right) celebrates with LaMarr Woodley after Woodley's third-quarter sack of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez on Sept. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.

So, what's wrong with LaMarr Woodley?

That's the question that's being asked on the heels of his most unproductive season, including Sunday's one-tackle, one-assist, no-sack game against Cincinnati.

Woodley, who has been hampered by hamstring and ankle injuries this year, had been one of the more dominant pass rushers in the league over the past five years, but he has only four sacks and 12 pressures all season. He hasn't had a pressure or a sack since Nov. 4 against the Giants — some 195 snaps.

Against the Bengals, it was much of the same.

Woodley rushed the passer 26 times (his second most this year), with 20 of those coming one-on-one against tackle Andre Smith, who had allowed seven sacks and 24 hurries coming into the game.

Woodley rushed Andy Dalton nine times over the final 14 snaps of the game but never got a hand on the Bengals' quarterback.

But what may be more concerning than that is Woodley's play in the run game. Woodley has been just as dominant a run-stopper over his career but struggled with Cincinnati tight end Jermaine Gresham.

Woodley took part in defending 17 run plays, with 11 of those coming while being one-on-one blocked by tight ends Gresham or Orson Charles.

In defense of Woodley, he has been asked to drop into coverage a lot this year. He was asked to cover either a tight end or a back 21 times against the Bengals. Woodley has dropped into coverage 35 percent of the time this year.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

• With Keenan Lewis not 100 percent, the onus of following A.J. Green around the field fell to Cortez Allen. Despite Green catching 10 passes for 116 yards, Allen more than held his own. Green was involved in 63 plays and Allen lined up across from him 43 times, allowing six catches for 60 yards while picking off a pair of passes. When the Steelers went to the nickel, either Curtis Brown or Josh Victorian covered Green. Despite Allen's success, the Steelers switched up coverages late in the game. Lewis covered Green on four of Cincinnati's final six plays, including allowing Green's 21-yard reception with eight seconds left to set up the game-winning field goal. Lewis had covered Green four other times over the previous 57 plays.

• A week after Ben Roethlisberger said he was disappointed that they didn't run more no-huddle, Ben Roethlisberger got more of an opportunity Sunday. The Steelers ran five no-huddle plays with varying success. Roethlisberger completed a 7-yard pass to Heath Miller; overthrew Mike Wallace for what looked like a sure touchdown and hooked up with Antonio Brown for the game's only offensive score — a 60-yard pass. The other times the Steelers ran the no huddle didn't work very well, as Rashard Mendenhall was stopped for a negative run on a key third down and Jonathan Dwyer rushed for 3 yards.

• Roethlisberger, like many right-handed quarterbacks, feels more comfortable throwing the ball to the right rather than across his body to the left. Against the Bengals, it was the opposite. Heading into last week's game, Roethlisberger had 95 attempts and 10 touchdowns when he threw to the right. Against the Bengals, Roethlisberger attempted only two passes outside the numbers and to the right, with one of them being the most influential play of the game — Reggie Nelson's interception with 14 seconds left. The week before, 11 of Roethlisberger's 36 attempts were to the left. The Week 7 win over Cincinnati, Roethlisberger attempted 13 passes outside and to the right.

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