On The Steelers: Superman Woodley has triumphant return
LaMarr Woodley intercepts a pass as he's taken down by the Titans' David Stewart in the third quarter Sunday at Heinz Field.
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The volume on LaMarr Woodley's quiet season hit decibels in the 61.5 million range Sunday when, in three hours time, he equaled or surpassed his entire production through the first four games.
His line from the Steelers' 38-17 pre-Columbus Day parade through the Titans (compared to his four-game totals) went like this: Sacks 11/2 (11/2), quarterback hurries 2 (2), interceptions 1 (0), passes defensed 1 (0).
Welcome back, LaMarr Woodley, and don't think you weren't missed.
His coaches missed him.
"He did a nice job," coach Mike Tomlin said gently. "We needed the performance that he gave us. I think he understands that, as do we."
His teammates missed him.
"I told Woodley, if he doesn't give me the flying kick today, I'm taking the friend card back," said defensive end Brett Keisel.
And the fans missed him, and they let him know it, especially after he signed a five-year, $61.5 million contract this summer after the Steelers made him their franchise player.
"I knew that was going to be the talk from the day I signed my contract, from the day I got franchised," Woodley said after he helped deconstruct the Titans. "People expect more out of you, people expect you to be Superman when you sign a big contract."
Why not, he was Superman before he signed it, especially in big games. Woodley holds the NFL record for having at least one sack in six consecutive postseason games and is the only player in history to have at least 10 sacks in just six postseason games since the sack became an official stat in 1982.
He has had at least 10 sacks in his three seasons as a starter and leads the Steelers with three today.
Yet before Sunday, the play he was best remembered for this season was the missed tackle on Arian Foster's 42-yard winning fourth-quarter touchdown run for the Texans in Houston. Woodley was not in the best position to make that tackle because his pass rush on the play took him too far upfield.
"I had an opportunity to make a play," Woodley said about that miss, making no excuses.
But he has not had as many opportunities to make the big plays this season because the Steelers could not stop the run and thus could not force offenses to try to catch up by throwing. They call it making an offense one-dimensional.
"Teams were doing a great job of getting rid of the ball and running the ball on us," Woodley said. "We force them to become a one-dimensional team and when they don't, you don't get as many rushes.
"You look at the Baltimore game, you look at all the games. You look at the Indy game, the quarterback had the ball one or two seconds and got rid of the ball. As a pass rusher, you need him to hold the ball just a little bit longer to get back there. I'm not trying to make excuses but that's just what happened."
Fellow linebacker James Farrior -- who also was back to normal Sunday, leading his defense with 13 tackles -- cited the circumstances as well for Woodley's low early season stats.
"A lot of people have high expectations of him due to his recent contract signing. They were looking for 'right now.' Sometimes in past years he got off to a slow start, but he always comes on. I think he's doing a good job overall. I just think the plays weren't coming."
They came in waves Sunday and many hope they continue, counting his coaches and teammates.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne played with Peyton Manning for 10 seasons before this one and the two have hooked up for more touchdown passes of 40 yards or longer (12) than any other combination in the NFL.
In second place are Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Mike Wallace, who are five games into their third season together.
They have now done it 10 times after Wallace caught a 40-yard touchdown Sunday. Wallace also caught two from Charlie Batch during Roethlisberger's four-game suspension last season, tying Wayne with 12 total in his career.
After a start in which he was averaging in the low teens, Wallace's average per catch has climbed to 17.3 and his 536 yards receiving ranks third in the NFL.
Max Starks most recent appearance on a football field was Nov. 8 in Cincinnati. The Steelers placed him on injured reserve that week because of a neck injury that required surgery. They cut him before training camp this season and he remained a free agent until one week ago today, when they signed him out of desperation.
After three practices, Starks started at left tackle Sunday and helped an offensive line that played perhaps its best game of the season, keeping Ben Roethlisberger nearly clean and leading the way for 174 yards rushing and five touchdown passes.
So much for the value of training camp.
"It is still an integral part," Starks said, then broke into a smile and a laugh. "But some guys don't need it."
Starks said his familiarity with his fellow offensive linemen from the previous years helped and, despite all the movement that went on in that line before Sunday's game and during it, Starks still believes that a line needs time together.
"It's important to get that chemistry and continuity and you need those opportunities like OTAs, like training camp to get used to your offensive linemen and get everybody on the same page. I still think it's very important to have an offensive line together for a period of time."
His theory on the current line's problems BS (Before Starks) came down to playing on the road in noisy stadiums.
"Communication is always the key and you look at some of those away games, it's tough when it's a loud environment and you're trying to communicate to your other offensive linemen to let them know what the blocking scheme is and sometimes you have breakdowns. It's easier at home."
Even without camp.