Monday, October 17, 2011

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley understands perfectly why he has become an easy target of criticism whenever the Steelers' defense falters.

He's making the big money now – $61.5 million over six seasons – so there are loftier expectations. He can't afford to take off a play.

On Sunday, the high-energy Woodley kept his motor running from start to finish. He did more than play perhaps his best game of the season. He influenced it by forcing the puzzled Jacksonville Jaguars to alter their game plan, which enabled the Steelers to escape with a 17-13 victory at Heinz Field.

Woodley also scrapped with Jaguars running back Greg Jones in the second half.

The Jaguars got nothing out their passing game, mostly because Woodley almost single-handedly dismantled the pocket in the first half and forced rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert to lean more on running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who rushed for 96 yards on 22 carries.

"We made them a one-dimensional offense," Woodley said. "But we did put the pressure on (Gabbert), so they decided to put the ball in the hands of Jones-Drew."

The Jaguars wised up in the second half by doubling Woodley in an effort to keep him from constantly harassing Gabbert.

The Jaguars also tried getting into Woodley's head. Woodley finally snapped when Jones scored a takedown following a 7-yard run by Maurice Jones-Drew during the Jaguars' 17-play, 80-yard scoring drive that narrowed the gap to 17-10 with 1:53 left in the third quarter.

"I won't take anything away from him," Jones said. "It was competing; that was it. … In the heat of the battle, stuff just happens."

Woodley and Jones were flagged with unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for fighting. Woodley, though, wasn't intimidated.

"Once that play was over with, I had to get back to football," said Woodley, who totaled eight tackles and two sacks. "I don't let one play frustrate me at all, but that was stupid of me. It's good it was a personal foul against both of us. I could have been thrown out of the game, and that would have hurt the team."

Woodley set the tone early when he sacked Gabbert on a third and 12 at the Jacksonville 49 to short circuit what had been an impressive opening drive by the Jaguars.

The defense held up in the fourth quarter when it looked like Jacksonville had the momentum and a chance to pull off the upset. The Steelers forced two three-and-outs on four fourth-quarter possessions.

The defense was challenged, too, when punter Daniel Sepulveda sliced a 23-yard punt out of play to give Jacksonville the ball at its 48.

Gabbert completed a 21-yard throw to tight end Marcedes Lewis at the Steelers' 31. The Jaguars were seemingly in four-down territory when Woodley dumped Jones-Drew on a third-and-4 run with 4:22 left – one of three consecutive tackles by Woodley.

The Jaguars opted for Josh Scobee's 45-yard field goal to cut their deficit to 17-13 with 4:17 to go.

"I think overall everybody did a great job of getting back there and getting pressure," Woodley said.

Read more: Woodley, Steelers fight to finish vs. Jaguars – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Posted in Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Steelers

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