LaMarr Woodley Comparable to Adalius Thomas, Unlikely to Land in Foxboro and 18 Other Patriots Thoughts


February 9, 2011

LaMarr Woodley Comparable to Adalius Thomas, Unlikely to Land in Foxboro and 18 Other Patriots Thoughts The NFL season is done and gone, and there's no concrete evidence that will suggest when it's coming back. At the very least, the Super Bowl lived up to the hype and proved to be a spectacular celebration of the most-viewed season in league history.

But there's no gray area for this week's Two-Minute Drill, which breaks down one of the Patriots' potential free-agent interests, a quarterback mock draft and some questionable decisions in the Super Bowl.

1. There's been a lot of reader feedback about Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, basically because Patriots fans are intrigued over the possibility of the free agent linking up with New England. That seems highly unlikely for two reasons: One, the Steelers want him back, and two, Woodley wants to remain in Pittsburgh, so much so that he even told reporters he wouldn't mind being franchised. (That frantic gasp you just heard came from the NFLPA.)

2. Woodley has obviously been a serious player during his four seasons with the Steelers, amassing 39 career sacks — including 35 in the last three seasons — and he has teamed up with James Harrison to form the best pass-rushing combo in the NFL. Woodley helps typify the ferocity that the Steelers have always displayed on that side of the ball.

3. Here's something to think about, though. Harrison is always an offense's first priority when it comes to blocking, and the Steelers also pose the threat of sending inside linebackers James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons, and safety Troy Polamalu, along with a talented group of defensive linemen.

4. Blitz reads could change on almost every play, and with Harrison and Woodley lined up on opposite sides, it's essentially impossible to double-team both of them, which means Woodley typically only has to win a one-on-one matchup to get to the quarterback. That's not by rule, but Woodley is usually going to benefit from having Harrison out there with him.

5. So, if you haven't figured out where I'm going with this already, here's what I'm getting at. Woodley wouldn't have the luxury of being the second, third, fourth or fifth priority if he was with the Patriots. He'd instantly be their best pass rusher, and opposing offenses would design their blocking schemes around him. Does this scenario remind you of anyone?

6. Say, Adalius Thomas? When things went south for Thomas in New England, players and analysts pointed this very fact out to everyone. He had 28 sacks during his last three seasons with the Ravens — an average of two fewer sacks per season than Woodley's current three-year run — but his critics said that he was essentially the fifth-to-seventh most dangerous pass rusher in that defensive scheme. When he joined the Patriots, he was their best pass rusher, obviously only during the times when Bill Belichick used him in that capacity.

7. And when Belichick wanted Thomas to be a more well-rounded linebacker, things went south quickly because Thomas wouldn't adjust. I have no idea at all how Woodley's character compares to Thomas, but since Belichick has always been averse to using players as straight-line pass rushers, it's at least worth wondering how Woodley would react to a change in role.

8. Is it fair to compare Woodley to Thomas? I don't know. I just think their situations are similar, where they fit very well with one style of defense, and their games wouldn't necessarily translate to a completely different scheme. That's why I think it's worth being cautious over a potential marriage between Woodley and the Patriots, even though, like many believe, he'll never leave the Steelers anyway.

9. Since I devoted eight points to why I don't think Woodley would be a good fit, I might as well draw up something in the dirt that would make him an intriguing option. If the Patriots moved Wilfork to defensive end on a nearly fulltime basis, they could line up Woodley over Wilfork's shoulder on one side of the line. Offenses would have no way to double team both guys, and the Patriots could bank one of them getting through to the quarterback.

10. And finally, one last note on Woodley, who was a second-round pick out of Michigan in 2007. He was definitely on Belichick's radar because he was all over that Michigan defense. Belichick signed undrafted free agent Pierre Woods in 2006, drafted Shawn Crable in the fourth round in 2007 and traded for Prescott Burgess in 2009. However, Belichick traded his second-round pick in 2007 for Wes Welker (it was the 60th overall selection, which was 14 picks after Woodley was taken) and didn't have much of a chance to land Woodley.

11. There were 65 games this season that were decided by three points or less, which is more than one-quarter of all games played, according to Pro Football Weekly. That's an amazing stat, and it really shows that a win by 10-14 points is practically a blowout by the current standards.

12. The top-10 list of the best active quarterbacks sparked some good debate, but each player's credentials had to count for a big part of the equation. That's why Ben Roethlisberger's two Super Bowl rings put him fifth — above better passers Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan, who have a combined playoff record of 3-6 — and Eli Manning was ninth because of his ring.

13. Let's change that game up a bit. If you had to pick one quarterback to start a franchise from scratch, who would it be? That would figure to take Peyton Manning out of the running because he turns 35 in March, but what about Tom Brady, who turns 34 in August? In all likelihood, the decision would come down to the 27-year-old Aaron Rodgers, 25-year-old Matt Ryan and 29-year-old Philip Rivers.

14. If I had a mock draft for such an event, I'd go with Rodgers, Ryan, Brady, Sam Bradford and Manning, in that order.

15. Why would I take Brady over the 23-year-old Bradford? Well, Brady's young offense was ranked No. 1 in the league in 2010, and I think he's got at least another four really good years remaining. If I couldn't figure out a contingency plan over the next four years, I never would have been hired to run my own fake franchise in the first place.

16. Speaking of mock drafts, one reader presented a good idea during one of my weekly mailbags. From now on, my Thursday mock drafts will include 33 picks, as long as the Patriots hold onto the first pick in the second round. If last week's mock included a 33rd pick, I would have had the Pats take Pittsburgh wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin.

17. There were times last week when I thought the Steelers looked a little too loose, particularly Roethlisberger, and that was a change from the way head coach Mike Tomlin steered the ship prior to Super Bowl XLIII. Did the Steelers fall behind 21-3 because they were uncharacteristically loose earlier in the week? Who knows, but they're allowing the question to at least be broached.

18. My biggest criticism of Tomlin this season was his lack of dedication to running back Rashard Mendenhall. On the surface, Mendenhall's 324 carries were the fourth most in the regular season, but there were series at a time when he spent too much time on the sidelines, or Tomlin relied too much on Roethlisberger.

19. Mendenhall only had 14 carries in the Super Bowl — tied for his second fewest of the season — and part of that had to do with Pittsburgh's early deficit. However, after Mendenhall scored a touchdown on the first series of the second half to cut it to 21-17, the Steelers forced a three-and-out and got the ball back with nine minutes remaining in the third quarter. Basically, they had all the time in the world to get back into their offense. Mendenhall ran for one yard on the first play and never touched the ball again during the possession, which included six designed passes, one run from Mewelde Moore and a punt. On Pittsburgh's next possession, with the score still 21-17, Mendenhall ran for four yards on the first play, Roethlisberger threw twice and the Steelers punted.

20. And on the next possession — again, with the score still 21-17 — Mendenhall rushed twice and lost a fumble that changed the game, so that's not the greatest ringing endorsement for this argument. But with Roethlisberger struggling and Mendenhall averaging 4.5 yards per carry in the Super Bowl, it didn't make sense for Tomlin to abandon a ground game that led the Steelers to their first touchdown of the second half, especially since the Packers had the NFL's fifth-ranked pass defense and 18th-ranked run defense.


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