It’s a series that’s been made famous by defensive players.
Ray Lewis and James Harrison.
Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu.
But today the top pass rushers, and perhaps the players both offensive coordinators must scheme against first, are Paul Kruger and Jason Worilds.
Yep, it’s a changing world.
Both players lead their respective teams in sacks, and both players will be going up against weak links on the opposing offensive lines, particularly Kruger, who’ll be up against Steelers seventh-round draft pick Kelvin Beachum.
Kruger, with 4 sacks in his last three games, leads the Ravens with 5½ sacks.
“There’s a reason he has a lot of sacks,” said Beachum, who’ll replace the injured Mike Adams at right tackle. “Speed to bull, speed to power, speed to whatever counter he has. He does a good job at it.”
Steelers linebacker Stevenson Sylvester played with Kruger for three years at Utah remembers when he had to cover Kruger when he was a tight end. Kruger was moved to defensive end because he was so physical.
“You see some of these athletes like LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison who have a great understanding of football,” said Sylvester. “It just comes to them easily. Paul’s one of those guys who just understands where he needs to go. That’s why he moved to D-end. He knows exactly what he’s supposed to do at that spot.”
A fourth-year veteran, Kruger will be making his fourth career start this afternoon.
Worilds, a third-year vet, will be making his ninth career start, this time in place of the injured Woodley.
With 2 sacks last week, Worilds leads the Steelers with 5 sacks. He has 10 in 37 games played, and will be going up against Ravens rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele.
“I would say the last month he has really come back to where he was at the end of last season, when he was coming on strong,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said of Worilds, who missed both of his first two offseasons because of the lockout and then an injury.
“Now he can get back into his normal growth cycle. In the first three years, you should grow tremendously. I think he is getting back on schedule for that.”
IMPROVED PASS RUSH II
The Steelers had a season-high 4 sacks last week, thanks to two from Worilds and one from defensive end Brett Keisel, Keisel’s third in three weeks.
James Harrison also had a sack, his second in two weeks as he continues to rebound from August knee surgery.
The sack last Sunday was the 61st of Harrison’s career, putting him fourth on the team’s all-time list behind Jason Gildon (77), L.C. Greenwood (73½) and Joe Greene (66).
“He’s getting much stronger,” inside linebacker Larry Foote said of Harrison. “He seems to be more active, making more plays. I always look to see if he’s pushing guys and using that force he has, that explosiveness. Last couple of weeks you’ve been seeing that.”
Foote pointed to the secondary as the reason for the team’s pass-rushing improvement.
“I think the back end’s got a lot to do with it,” he said. “When you see a lot of defensive linemen getting sacks, the back end is making the quarterback hold the ball. Lately you’ve been seeing that.”
The Steelers have held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 80 or less in seven consecutive games. The best was the lone rookie, Brandon Weeden, who rated 78.7 in spite of throwing a pick six.
The Steelers give up an average of 166 passing yards per game, 21 yards fewer per game than the NFL’s second-ranked pass defense, San Francisco.
POUNCEY FEELING IT
Maurkice Pouncey isn’t complaining about a potential move to left guard today. In fact, he doesn’t complain about much these days.
“Aw, man, this is the best I’ve felt physically since college,” said the Steelers’ All-Pro center. “You know I got hurt real bad at the end of my first year and I came back the next year and I should’ve gotten the surgery. I was all dinged up and the ankle finally blew out again. Now everything’s been pretty cool. Hopefully it stays that way.”
KEEPING UP WITH JONES
A week after allowing a back-breaking 63-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jacoby Jones, the Steelers kept one of the all-time greats, Josh Cribbs, in check.
The Steelers allowed the Browns’ star only 27 yards on 3 returns. That’s usually his warm-up against the Steelers.
“I think we executed pretty well,” said rookie punter Drew Butler. “Obviously when you face a potential threat like him, I think it’s a win in the fact he didn’t score, and I think it’s a win in that he didn’t have any significant returns against us. Obviously there’s always room to improve as a whole.”
But the grind continues today with the rematch with Jones, who has 3 touchdown returns and ranks seventh in the NFL in punt return average (11.0) and second in kickoff return average (35.8), one-tenth a yard behind Percy Harvin.
“He’s had a heck of a season,” Butler said. “I know he’s going to look to build on it, so it’s another challenge for us.”