Due To Outside Linebacker Woes, Pittsburgh Steelers Should Consider Switch to 4-3

By Michael Richter
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The past three seasons of LaMarr Woodley‘s career were riddled with injuries. He has only recorded a combined total of nine sacks in his last two seasons — less than the 10 he had in 2011 alone.

Woodley’s injury woes started in 2011. In fact, he was on a roll that year until he suffered an injury against the New England Patriots. Woodley recorded two sacks in four straight games, but after the injury he suffered against New England, he didn’t record a single sack for the remainder of the season. He ended up missing six games in 2011, and missed another three in 2012. In 2013, Woodley missed seven games.

Cutting Woodley seems like a reasonable thing to do, but unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Woodley is locked in a contract until 2017. If the Steelers were to cut him, the organization would be handed a huge amount of dead cap space. It’s very unlikely that the Steelers are willing to take the cap penalty.

Woodley isn’t the only problem that the Steelers face at outside linebacker. Jason Worilds had the best season of his career in 2013 and will soon be a free agent. The chances of Worilds re-signing with the Steelers are slim. There are teams out there ready to throw much more money at him than the Steelers.

Pittsburgh is likely going to have Jarvis Jones and Woodley as their starting outside linebackers in 2014. One thing is for certain: the Steelers will spend a draft pick on a linebacker this May.

Perhaps the Steelers should take a different approach in 2014. A switch from 3-4 to 4-3 could be a possibility. The personnel that the Steelers currently have definitely possesses the potential to perform better in the 4-3. This is how it would play out: Woodley would alter to a defensive end, preferably on the right side. Woodley was a defensive end in college, and he is certainly big enough to play as a down lineman.

Jarvis Jones would stay at OLB. He would play much better as a 4-3 OLB. Jones doesn’t seem like he can become a starting 3-4 OLB as he doesn’t have enough strength. Cam Heyward would play as the other defensive end. He has proven to be a good pass rusher, and could slim down a bit.

Larry Foote would man the middle linebacker position, and Lawrence Timmons would be placed as the other starting OLB. Steve McLendon and Ziggy Hood, or possibly Al Woods, would start at the defensive tackle positions.

Mike Tomlin used a 4-3 scheme when he was a defensive coordinator, but you have to wonder if Dick LeBeau would be on board. The Steelers do not have a top linebacking corps nor a top defense anymore.

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