Worilds' presence boosts Steelers' defense in Woodley's absence
The Steelers are finally seeing what they expected of Jason Worilds when they first drafted him four years ago.
And just when they're not sure how much longer they'll be seeing him in their uniform.
No doubt the Steelers were concerned about how effective their already-inconsistent pass rush would be when LaMarr Woodley — who had five sacks in his first six games — injured a calf Nov. 10 against Buffalo.
But in the two games since Woodley was replaced by Worilds, a 2010 second-round pick, they have mounted far more pressure than they have all season.
On Sunday, they had five sacks and six hits on Browns quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden — with all six hits by Worilds. Against the Lions and Browns, they had a combined seven sacks and 17 QB hurries, or exactly the kind of pressure they weren't getting early in the season.
Worilds has 10 quarterback hits in those two games, or more than Woodley has had in any of his last four seasons.
“It's fun to be out there,” Worilds said Monday. “Being out there on the field consistently kind of opened up some doors.”
Especially, it seems, the one that leads to the quarterback.
This consistent pressure has led to the Steelers allowing only a meaningless touchdown and 11 points in their past six quarters.
First-round pick Jarvis Jones, back in the lineup with Woodley out, also has responded with four quarterback hurries, two blocked passes and four tackles in two games.
Jones credits defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau with consistently mixing up his pass rushes — Worilds rushed on 52 of 76 plays in Cleveland — but also said he and Worilds are comfortable playing together.
“I think we've been doing a great job,” Jones said. “There's still some things to clean up technique-wise, but I think we've been doing a greater job of mixing some things in.”
With a quick turnaround before the Thursday night game against Baltimore, the Steelers aren't certain if Woodley will be ready to play.
Or, if he does, whether he will remain on the left side, as usual, or switch to the right side to accommodate Worilds.
Woodley said last week he's comfortable playing on either side, though productive veterans such as himself are rarely moved out of position.
“Especially when you're know you're capable, to finally be able to go out there and contribute, it's fun,” said Worilds, who fought through injuries, a switch from defensive end in college to outside linebacker and inconsistent playing time his first three seasons.
Coach Mike Tomlin dismisses Worilds' big push as being related to him playing for a contract. Worilds' rookie-year deal is up after this season, and he will become a free agent.
“As a competitor, he recognizes the circumstances,” Tomlin said Monday of Worilds, who has four sacks, 13 QB hits and 15 QB hurries, plus 18 tackles. “It's the natural evolution of a healthy guy that's become a veteran football player.”
One who is emerging at just the right time.