The Pittsburgh Steelers have never found themselves short of leaders on the field.
There is no question that Ben Roethlisberger is the field general. No one leads by example better than Hines Ward. James Harrison will bring it every play and no one will play so physically without making a sound than Troy Polamalu.
But recently Pittsburgh has been missing something. There has been a strange silence coming from the Steelers locker room lately.
That silence came to a crashing halt last night when LaMarr Woodley responded to a question asking if Joe Flacco could lead the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl while on NFL Total Access, via USA Today.
“No, not at all because they have to go through one team—that's the Pittsburgh Steelers in that AFC championship. So in order for them to get to the Super Bowl, they have to beat us and we're not gonna let that happen once we get that close. So that's not gonna happen in this lifetime.”
Talk about fighting words. Pittsburgh has not had that type of confidence since Lee Flowers and Joey Porter were on the roster.
Who can forget Flowers famous comment directed towards the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001.
“They talk so much, and they go to the Pro Bowl because they talk,” he said. “They ain't nothing but paper champions. That's all they are, and that's all they're ever going to be.”
But not even Flowers could match up with Porter, who was never at a loss for words.
Porter’s finest pre-game motivation came prior to the 2006 Divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.
“They don't want to just sit there, line up and play football. [The Colts] want to try to catch you off guard. They don't play smash-mouth football; they want to trick you! They want to catch you substituting, know what I mean?” he said. “They don't want to just call a play, get up there and run a play. They want to make you think! They want it to be a thinking game instead of a football game!”
Porter backed up his talk that day with 1.5 sacks and would end the season with a Super Bowl victory.
While Woodley may not be as brash as Flowers or Porter, he is certainly honest, and who can blame him?
Since becoming a full-time starter in 2008, which also coincides with Flacco entering the league, Woodley and the Steelers have gone 6-2 against Baltimore, including two playoff victories, and he has seven and a half sacks during that time, not to mention two Super Bowl appearances and one championship.
But Woodley did not stop with the Ravens. He also does not expect much from the Cincinnati Bengals without Carson Palmer.
“Well, honestly, when they play against us, it really doesn't matter whether he's there or not. But as far as when they play against other teams, I think that missing him is a big piece of their team. … They're missing a lot of guys on that offense. So it's gonna be like starting over from scratch again if Carson don't come back.”
Trash talk? Maybe. Honesty? Absolutely.
And not everything that came out of Woodley’s mouth was so complementary towards his team and negative towards the opponents. He actually has high hopes for Cleveland Brown’s quarterback Colt McCoy.
“Honestly, I think the guy’s gonna be a great quarterback.”
The honesty coming from Woodley’s mouth is a breath of fresh air from players tiptoeing around what they say to avoid dishing out “bulletin board material.” In other words, leave the coach-speak to the coaches, a little trash talk from the players makes the game more interesting.
For Woodley, it was only a matter of time.
As a rookie, he displayed the traits of a future vocal leader for the defense and now that he has established himself as one of the top pass rushers in the NFL, Woodley has the freedom to speak what is on his mind.
For the Steelers, a true vocal leader has been missing since Porter was wearing a Steelers’ uniform. Now with Woodley in the fold, the Steelers have a player to speak his mind with production to match.
But with his new-found voice, Woodley still has a bit of humility, ranking himself as only the fourth best linebacker in the league behind other outstanding players including Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis and of course, teammate James Harrison.
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