Dick LeBeau’s been known as a defensive genius for years now. Last Sunday, he also turned into a scrounger.
With defensive end Brett Keisel already sidelined before the game, and after outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley and defensive end Aaron Smith went down with injuries, LeBeau was left with a difficult challenge. How do you keep a four-man defensive line rotation (with only two healthy defensive ends) fresh on a humid Miami day?
LeBeau had to turn to rookie outside linebacker Jason Worilds. He may not be ready to step in and replace Woodley, but on Sunday, Worilds saw his first significant action as a pro. Considering he’s supposed to be the next in the long line of Steelers’ pass rushers, I wanted to see how he did. So here’s a look at all 25 of his snaps against the Dolphins.
Worilds isn’t ready to replace Woodley, obviously. Pittsburgh didn’t even try. When Woodley left the field with a strained hamstring roughly five minutes into the second quarter, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons slid outside (with Larry Foote moving into Timmons spot) for the next play. That was what Pittsburgh did every time they lined up in a 3-4 formation the rest of the game. Worilds was a hand-on-the-ground defensive end at Virginia Tech, so he’s not comfortable yet making the drops into pass coverage that are required for an outside linebacker. But it goes beyond that. What we saw on Sunday was that he’s not really ready to contribute in run defense either.
That didn’t mean Worilds didn’t have a role to play. Timmons is too valuable in his nickel linebacker spot to slide into Woodley’s defensive end spot in the nickel defense. Timmons roams the field, occasionally blitzing, but also playing coverage. So whenever the Steelers went to the nickel, Worilds replaced Woodley at left defensive end.
And that meant that he got to play a lot once Smith left early in the third quarter. With only four healthy defensive linemen, LeBeau was forced to play the nickel as his primary defense. In the nickel, he only had to put two defensive linemen on the field (and nose tackles and defensive ends both play defensive tackle in the Steelers’ nickel), so he could work a defensive line rotation that gave players a rest.
That doesn’t mean that Worilds entry didn’t force LeBeau to simplify things in the nickel as well. Normally the Steelers rely on confusion to generate a lot of pressure in their nickel package — offenses don’t know if the defensive ends are rushing or dropping into coverage with a linebacker coming instead. Since James Harrison and Woodley are comfortable in coverage, the Steelers can create confusion without creating holes in coverage.
When Worilds came in, all that went out the window. If the Steelers wanted to rush a linebacker, they had the choice of either rushing five (which LeBeau doesn’t want to do too often in passing situations) or dropping Harrison into coverage. They did drop Worilds into coverage once. He wasn’t involved in defending the pass.
But Worilds was drafted for his pass-rushing ability. And in that role, he actually did OK. Worilds doesn’t really have many pass-rush moves yet — he relies on his quickness to beat linemen on a speed rush. But he is quick enough to make that work at times.
The Dolphins passed on 18 of the 25 plays where Worilds was in the game. He rushed the passer on 17 of those plays. On 12 of those 17 rushes, he fired upfield on a speed rush. On four of those 12 plays, he managed to generate a hit on the quarterback or pressured him. He was a step away from getting to the quarterback on a fifth play. Admittedly, one of those four pressures came because he got up after right tackle Vernon Carey had laid on top of him and hustled to get back in the play, but on the other four Worilds beat his man to the outside.
Considering that Carey had to know that Worilds’ favorite move was to loop outside, Worilds’ ability to beat him to the outside is a solid sign that he has the speed to cause problems. When he looped inside, he had more problems; he didn’t generate any push when he bull-rushed or looped inside.
There were other problems, too. Since Worilds is only really comfortable firing upfield, he also opened up serious holes when the Dolphins ran the ball. Thankfully, Miami never seemed to take advantage of it, but with Worilds looping outside, Miami could have driven trucks through the holes in the right side of their line.
Worilds has a quick first step. He tried a spin move once, which didn’t really work, but it is a good sign that he’s working on developing some counters to his main move. Before he can get on the field consistently, he’ll need to develop something that can take advantage of tackles overcommitting to beating his speed rush.
All in all, though, it was a solid effort for a first game.