Ziggy Hood's emergence fortifies Steelers' D-line
Defensive end Ziggy Hood is one of the strongest players on the Steelers, though apparently there are different classifications for that quality.
"I'm grown-man strong," veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "He's weight strong."
Two things that aren't in question when it comes to Hood: He has gotten stronger as his second NFL season has progressed, and his emergence couldn't have come at a better time for the Steelers.
Hood collected all three of his three sacks -- tied for third on the team -- in the Steelers' final four games, including one after a perfectly executed spin move in Cleveland.
His increased production didn't just result from extended playing time due to an injury to starting defensive end Aaron Smith. It is also the product of Hood getting healthy after battling a nagging ankle injury earlier this season.
"All of the pieces are starting to fall into place," the Steelers' 2009 first-round draft pick said. "Now it's just the small things like more technique and really staying at it. All of that can be added through film study and critiquing yourself."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has said that NFL players make the most improvement from the first to their second year.
The Steelers may have had a problem had that not been the case with Hood.
The arm injury sustained by Smith, one of the Steelers' most valuable players, thrust Hood into the starting lineup at the end of October.
The 6-foot-3, 300-pounder started the final 10 regular-season games at left defensive end and will stay there for the foreseeable future.
Smith almost certainly won't play Saturday against the Ravens in an AFC Divisional playoff game. And there are no guarantees that the 12-year veteran will return, even if the Steelers make it to Super Bowl XLV.
The Steelers are awaiting results from an MRI before deciding how to proceed with Smith, but he hasn't practiced since getting hurt in an Oct. 24 game in Miami.
The most positive spin coach Mike Tomlin could put on Smith's uncertain situation Monday was pointing out that Smith dressed for practice last week.
"It's been good to get him back on the field," Tomlin said. "I like seeing Aaron in a helmet."
Seeing Hood in one is not a bad alternative for Tomlin and the Steelers.
The former Missouri standout is strong, athletic and conscientious. He is also one month shy of his 24th birthday, so he should have plenty of upside.
"I kind of stumbled a little bit when I got injured earlier this season with my ankle," Hood said. "I couldn't use all of my physical ability, speed and everything, so I had to use my mind more than anything."
Hood has given the Steelers' pass rush a boost with his brainy and brawny approach to the game. He also helped the Steelers set a team record by allowing just 62.8 rushing yards a game this season.
"He's come a long way," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said of Hood. "He's got a lot of natural ability; he's strong for his age."
The Steelers led the NFL with 48 sacks this season. Linebackers accounted for 68 percent of the sacks, which is no surprise as outside linebackers are the edge pass-rushers in a 3-4 defense.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau didn't just rely on James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley to get after opposing quarterbacks.
Inside linebacker James Farrior tied his career-high with six sacks, and nickel back William Gay proved to be an effective blitzer, as he notched a pair of sacks along with cornerback Bryant McFadden.
More than half of the sacks that the Steelers got from their defensive ends came in the final two games. Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood were each credited with a sack against the Carolina Panthers and the Browns.
Here is a breakdown of where the Steelers got their sacks this season in terms of positions:
Outside linebacker: 22
Inside linebacker: 10.5
Defensive end: 7.5
Nose tackle: 1
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on ...
The Ravens' defense:
"They are just a salty group, and I don't care where you play them, when you play them, under what circumstances you play them, you know what you are going to get from them from that standpoint. They are going to run to the ball, they are going to hit people, they are going to turn ball-carriers around. They are going to give ground very grudgingly."
The change in overtime for the playoffs:
"I could care less, as long as it is the same for everyone else. I would have preferred that it would have been the same in the regular season, but you don't always get what you want in this business, particularly me."
Ravens tight end Todd Heap, who caught 10 passes for 108 yards against the Chiefs on Sunday:
"He is a matchup issue and problem for a lot of people. Are linebackers athletic enough to cover him• Are safeties or defensive backs in general big enough to cover him• I saw Kansas City going through some of those issues like we have in the past."
Three of four road teams winning playoff games this weekend:
"I would not necessary read too much into it. Those road teams that won are very good teams. I think everyone understands that, and I don't think anyone is shocked by those teams winning."
How much attention he pays to weather forecasts when he is putting together a game plan:
"I do more of that in the stadium in terms of in-game adjusting than I do from a preparation standpoint. I don't pay attention too much to weather forecast men. Those guys have great jobs. Fifty percent chance of rain, you know?"
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