The Steelers sacked Browns quarterbacks five times Sunday and outside linebacker Jason Worilds did not record any of them. But Worilds might have been the most disruptive player on the defense.
The proof: He registered six hits on Browns quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden after they released the ball.
The Steelers' 11 hits on the quarterback tied a season high. Those 11 hits played a part in the defense forcing four turnovers.
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There was William Gay's strip sack that was the direct result of a hit on Campbell. And defensive end Cameron Heyward theorized Gay's interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter likely was caused by the cumulative effects those hits had throughout the game.
"Whether it was games or straight rush, I thought we delivered a lot of punishment on the quarterback," Heyward said. "When we do that it will make [quarterbacks] see some things out there. It will make them rush. It's going to make it easier on the back end. If we can get that day in and day out we'll be successful."
The Steelers have hit the quarterback 34 times in the past four games. That's a staggering turnaround for a team that hit the quarterback just 15 times in their first four games, all losses.
In some game earlier this season, pressure on the quarterback was almost nonexistent. The Steelers hit Minnesota quarterback Matt Cassell once in a 34-27 loss in London. They hit Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor and Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco only twice.
It should come as no surprise then that the Steelers are 3-1 in the past four games and have forced nine turnovers, including seven in the past two games. They did not force any turnovers in those first four games when pressure was so infrequent.
"We want to make the quarterback feel uncomfortable in the pocket," said Worilds, who is responsible for 10 of the 18 hits the Steelers have administered on quarterbacks the past two weeks. "I think it affects the timing of their offense. If you can throw off that timing you'll be effective in what you want to do."
It's getting harder to ignore that Worilds is a thoroughly more effective player at left outside linebacker than right outside linebacker, and the statistics prove it.
In two games at left outside linebacker in place of injured starter LaMarr Woodley, Worilds has played 152 snaps and has produced 1 sack, 10 tackles, 10 hits on the quarterback and 4 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. In the first nine games, in 386 snaps at right outside linebacker, Worilds had 3 sacks, 8 tackles, 3 hits on the quarterback and 11 hurries.
The Steelers potentially could be without three starters on defense Thursday night against the Ravens. Nose tackle Steve McLendon, who sprained an ankle against the Browns, will not play.
Woodley, who has a calf injury, and defensive end Brett Keisel, who has a foot injury, could miss their third consecutive game.
Coach Mike Tomlin said he expected both to practice today and their readiness for the Ravens game would be evaluated after that.
Tomlin also said rookie safety Shamarko Thomas, who has missed the past two games with an ankle injury, could play as well. Reserve linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) is not as close to returning. Reserve defensive back Curtis Brown will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
Bigger role for Woods
Tomlin would not name Al Woods the starting nose tackle for the Ravens game, but he did play the majority of the snaps as McLendon's replacement against the Browns and recorded the first two sacks of his career.
Tomlin referred to Woods as an "obvious potential selection" to replace McLendon, but he also said Ziggy Hood could fill that role if Keisel returns to the lineup.
Heyward believes Woods will be an asset if he is called upon again Thursday night.
"We have full confidence in him," Heyward said. "He's a big, strong guy who can really help out our defense."
In his two seasons with the Steelers, Woods has proven to be a versatile player. He can fill in at defensive end or nose tackle.
"He's either taking end or nose reps," Heyward said. "He's really benefited from that. He's gotten better, and this year he's been a key contributor for us."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.