A key matchup: Packers T Bryan Bulaga vs. Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley
FORT WORTH, Texas -- When linebacker coach Keith Butler wants to rile one of his star pupils, LaMarr Woodley, he refers to him as his "shutdown linebacker."
Butler is not poking fun at the 270-pound outside linebacker; rather, he is showering him with a term of endearment, even if Woodley gets mad.
"He is a lot better in pass coverage than people give him credit for," Butler said. "He's a lot better than I ever thought he would be. He gets mad at me every now and then because he complains about having to drop too much in coverage. He says he wants to go to a 4-3 team or be a defensive end."
Everybody is aware of Woodley's pass-rush ability from the left side of the Steelers' 3-4 defense. He already owns an NFL record with 10 sacks in six career postseason games and is one of only two Steelers players to record 10 or more sacks in three consecutive seasons.
But what people don't realize is how well Woodley has developed in coverage after spending his college career at Michigan as a defensive end. Despite his size, the Steelers will drop him into coverage and have him cover running backs, tight ends and, yes, even wide receivers.
"Yeah, he should have been a good rusher; yeah, he should play well against the run when he came out because he was a defensive end; he should be hard to block by tight ends," Butler said. "But what he shouldn't be is as good as he is in pass coverage. He gets mad when I call him my shutdown linebacker."
Woodley responded with two interceptions in the regular season, including a 14-yard scoring return against the Cincinnati Bengals. He nearly had another during the goal-line stand in the AFC championship game victory against the New York Jets.
He might even get a shot at another in Super Bowl XLV because the Steelers will use a lot of different tactics to disrupt Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
"I think when quarterbacks see me out there on receivers and running backs, they look at my size and think, 'Oh, we got a win here,' " said Woodley, who has three career interceptions. "I take pride in dropping back in coverage because everybody thinks that's my weak point. If I'm on a receiver, my mindset is I have to lock this guy up."
The Steelers, though, didn't draft Woodley in the second round in 2007 to drop into coverage.
His specialty is rushing the passer, and that's what he primarily will do against the Packers. And that could cause problems for Packers rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga, their No. 1 draft choice. Bulaga has been the starter since Week 5 when starter Mark Tauscher sustained a season-ending shoulder injury.
Woodley became the first player in NFL history to register two sacks in each of his first four playoff games. This year, the streak ended, though he has one in each of the playoff victories against the Jets and Baltimore Ravens.
"You can't block the guy," Butler said. "You put a tight end on the outside, he's going to toss him around. Effective pass-rushers are guys who can do both -- they bull-rush you and then they can go around you. When they bull-rush you, you sit down on them and keep them from walking you back to the quarterback. Next thing you know, he has the edge on you."
Or he can just drop into coverage.
First Published February 3, 2011 12:52 am