By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are loaded with playmakers on the defensive side, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if someone like Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Casey Hampton, James Farrior, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis or Haloti Ngata would come up with a game-changing play.
Don’t count out LaMarr Woodley, however, when his Steelers (12-4) take on the Ravens (13-4) Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Heinz Field.
The fourth-year outside linebacker from Michigan has been a bargain as a second-round pick for the Steelers in 2007. Woodley’s base salary this season was $550,000, but he’s played like a million bucks with 10 sacks, two interceptions with one for a touchdown, three forced fumbles with two recovered and five pass breakups.
And if past games are an indication, expect Woodley to equal or even surpass his two-sacks-per game record in the playoffs.
“Sure, it would be great for me to keep that up or even get more,” Woodley said, “but at the end of the day all that matters is wins and losses. We won one and lost one against Baltimore this season, and I’ll trade all the sacks to get a win in this third one. I’ll take a W over anything else. That’s for sure.
“But don’t discount our offense, because they can win this game.” And if they give us at least three points, we have a chance to win the game. Against the Ravens, the defensive play is at a premium for both teams. We want to give our offense good field position and maybe even score a few points along the way.”
While there have been a lot of story lines the past couple weeks for the Steelers, and the Ravens have added to them with some trash-talking this week — re: Terrell Suggs and his suggestive T-shirt — Woodley believed the Steelers were as focused as possible on their ultimate goal.
“If you don’t take care of what’s in front of you, then you won’t get down the road to where you ultimately want to be,” Woodley said. “So, Baltimore is right in front of us now, and we have to take care of them. That’s the way we look at it, so we have to focus on them.
“People look at our first game with them and say that we didn’t get any sacks, but the game was close and we had a good chance to win. We were winning it and lost it at the end, but we really brought the heat in the second game and came out on top. This third game, maybe we’ll bring something else.”
It would be nice for the Steelers if inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons brings more than he has lately. After starting strong, Timmons has tailed off some during the latter portion of the regular season. In his fourth NFL season, the Steelers No. 1 pick in 2007 (ahead of Woodley) still had a breakout year.
“I feel really good and ready to go,” Timmons said. “We’ve been off a couple weeks, so I’m excited to play this next game. I feel really well-rested, so the bye week definitely was a benefit. But I think all our guys feel that way. We needed to get some bumps and bruises healed after a long season.
“I was able to lift weights, keep my conditioning up and refresh my body. You learn from the older guys how to take care of your body, so guys like James Farrior, James Harrison and our D-linemen are good guys to follow. If you can stay fresh, you can still be explosive at this late point in the season.”
Timmons ranked among the top five early in the season and finished with a team-high 149 total tackles, including 100 solo, three sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles with two recovered and seven pass breakups. He clearly has become a more well-rounded and dangerous player.
“L.T. has come a long way in the past couple years, but that’s the natural growth process for a player in this league,” Steelers defensive captain James Farrior said. “He’s also been healthier this season than he’s ever been, and I expect him to have a big playoff season. We all do.”
With Woodley and James Harrison getting marked on every down, as well as safety Troy Polamalu, Timmons could be an X-factor for the Steelers defense. He could be used on blitzes, but also be critical in coverage schemes to handle talented Ravens tight end Todd Heap.
“They have a lot of weapons, wideouts and running backs, Heap at tight end, so we can’t let Flacco beat us,” Timmons said. “I hope to get a shot at Flacco to force him into making a mistake.
“But I’m sure I’ll have to drop into coverage, too. They have a lot of dangerous players on their offense, but I think we have a lot of dangerous players on our defense, too. So, we’ll be ready for them.”
Notes: Two Ravens players did not practice Thursday, and their status for the game is up in the air. Center Matt Birk (knee) and cornerback Chris Carr (thigh) haven’t been able to do much this week, although Carr was limited Wednesday.