Woodley's sacks coming at key time

After recording only one and a half sacks in the Steelers first four games, linebacker LaMarr Woodley has exploded with five and a half sacks in the last three games, giving him seven on the season.

"It's just been happening," said Woodley. "The defensive line and the secondary have been doing a great job and I have been taking advantage of the opportunities and just getting the sacks.

"That is how you usually make plays, stuff going on around you and they give you an opportunity to make a play and you have to make it. That is what I have been doing these past few games."

Woodley's sack totals have gone up at the perfect time, with fellow linebacker James Harrison out of the lineup with an eye injury for the last three games.

"I am going to do what I normally do," said Woodley. "I always expect myself to go in there and play hard for the team no matter who is in there. If James is in there I hold myself to a high standard, if he is not in there I hold myself to a high standard. My getting to the quarterback just helps this team win."

As much as Woodley would like to record a few more sacks this week against the New England Patriots, the most important thing to him is winning. If the sacks come, great and if not, then so be it.

"Winning is definitely more important," said Woodley. "If I had a sack in the Texans game, and I had a sack in the Ravens game, it really doesn't matter. Sacks don't really matter when you lose. They matter when you are winning. When you lose, it's like I got a sack but it's not important."

With Tom Brady at quarterback the Patriots passing game has never been lacking, but it added another dimension over the past two years with the addition of two young tight ends selected in the 2010 NFL Draft – Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

"That is what football is coming to," said safety Ryan Clark. "You look at the matchup problems that a good tight end can cause. They are usually too big for defensive backs and too mobile for linebackers when you find the right guy."

Gronkowski, 6-6, 265-pounds, and Hernandez, 6-1, 245-pounds, can give defensive coordinators fits and create matchup problems.

"They have two guys who are totally different in the way they play," said Clark. "Gronkowksi is huge, has big hands, a body position type guy. Hernandez is a guy who can give you some wiggle and move around. They complement each other well. They are used well in the offense.

"We have linebackers who can run and have Troy (Polamalu) that can play against the tight end. The big thing is everybody has to play pass coverage. The linebackers have to focus on pass coverage, the defensive line has to rush and the secondary has to be on point and in the area they are supposed to be. We just need to do what we do best and see where it falls."

Gronkowski has 29 receptions for 401 yards and five touchdowns through five games, while Hernandez has 27 receptions for 289 yards and three touchdowns.

"Everybody is going to be covering," said cornerback William Gay. "We just have to make our plays. They line up everywhere. Everyone is going to have their chance with everybody that is out there."

Another obvious weapon the Patriots have is receiver Wes Welker, who leads the NFL with 51 receptions and is second in yardage with 785 yards.

"He is the go-to guy," said cornerback Ike Taylor during his Steelers Speak interview. "You talk about the trust factor. He and Tom Brady are two different people, same mind. Tom knows where he is going to be, Wes knows where he has to be. Game time situations they are both on the same page and it's hard to stop two guys of that caliber when they are on the same page.

"It was like Reggie Wayne and Peyton Manning when they were playing together. They don't have to talk about where they are going to be or what they are going to do. It's body language and eye contact. It's he is thinking what I am thinking. It's the same thing. It's been going on week in and week out and of course, Wes is putting up big numbers this year. On any given play, he can make a play happen."

The Patriots have been effective using Welker in the short passing game, allowing him to use his elusiveness to slip away from defenders and turn those short passes into long gains.

"Run after the catch, that is the big thing," said Clark. "Watching film on him you see a lot of four and five yard passes turn into 20 and 30 yard gains. When you are getting chunks like that without having to go down field you eliminate the risk of a turnover but also get the positive of getting so many yards."

While the passing game is the bread and butter of the Patriots offense, the running game is something that Steelers can't ignore.

"They are fundamentally sound when they run," said defensive end Ziggy Hood. "They are getting a lot of yards because people are expecting the pass."

Several Steelers are familiar with what running back BenJarvis Green-Ellis is capable of, as both Taylor and Gay work out with him during the offseason.

"He is a New Orleans homegrown guy," said Taylor. "He is a dog, what I mean by dog is he doesn't mind working out. He is like I am. You have to stop him from working out. They trust him, they like him. He is not a shifty guy, but he gets the yards and puts the offense into manageable second and third downs and that is what you want as a quarterback or coordinator. He does a lot of the dirty work for them."

Green-Ellis has 91 carries for 391 yards and five touchdowns and stopping him is a key.

"I know this guy, he knows us," said Gay. "It's going to be real fun, real challenging. We've been talking about this game since this summer at workouts. Their running game, he's been great. One of our goals is to stop the run.

"Him personally, us working out together, you always want to get back to the next offseason with one up on the person you are working out with. It's going to be fun but at the end of the day we are just out there trying to get a 'W'."

Practice Update: Four Steelers missed practice on Thursday, including LB James Harrison (eye), NT Chris Hoke (neck), G Doug Legursky (toe), and WR Hines Ward (ankle). Limited in practice were LB James Farrior (calf) and LB Jason Worilds (quadriceps).

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