Perhaps it was the frustration of being invisible through the first four weeks of the regular season. Perhaps it was the prodding by teammate James Farrior, who promptly told him he was paid too much money to have a slow start. Or maybe it was the realization that he had to be "the guy" when James Harrison broke his face in Houston. Whatever it was, one thing is true now:
Lamarr Woodley is back!
After going the first month of the season with a measly 1.5 sacks, Woodley has sacked the opposing quarterback 5.5 times in the past three weeks. With his sack total reaching seven on the season, Woodley is currently tied with Justin Babin of the Philadelphia Eagles for fourth in the league. The run defense has also improved in that span as the Steelers went from being ranked 22nd to, now, 11th against the run; shocking considering the team has been without two of its starting three starting linemen.
On Sunday against the Cardinals, Woodley recording two sacks and a huge hit on back up running back Alphonso Smith. His biggest play, however, was when he rushed Kevin Kolb, untouched, forcing Kolb to throw the ball away, a play that was eventually called "intentional grounding" and a safety. The safety was part of fifteen unanswered points the Steelers put up against the Cardinals in the second half and it, effectively, pushed the Steelers over the top.
With the Steelers playing against the Patriots and Ravens in the following weeks, Woodley is heating up at the right time. While the defense continues to deal with injuries to its front seven, Lamarr is proving he doesn't need an elite supporting cast to make an impact. Yes, Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor will be healthy for this game, but the absence of James Harrison, Chris Hoke and Casey Hampton is a bigger problem than it looks. For the Steelers to have any success in their next two games, Woodley has to be at his best to pressure Tom Brady and Joe Flacco. Not that he needs any extra motivation for important games. Woodley is no stranger to being a game-changing linebacker which is exactly why he was given a six year $61.5 million contract in the lockout-shortened offseason. His streak of four consecutive playoff games with at least two sacks is an NFL record and, at age 26, he's just getting started. At least, he better be. A contract of that caliber not only shows that the Steelers view him as a key piece to the defense, but that he should be among the game's biggest playmakers on that side of the ball. With 34 tackles, 7 sacks and an interception so far this season, Woodley is showing why he's a top tier player.