Throughout the 2009 NFL season, SI.com's Jeff Ritter will work with Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley to get his thoughts and observations on the NFL and take you behind the scenes with the Steelers. Woodley is in his third season and finished with a career-best 11.5 sacks in 2008 while helping Pittsburgh win a Super Bowl title. The 2-2 Steelers face the 1-3 Lions in Detroit on Sunday.
• This probably won't surprise anyone, but I think there are too many rules right now that go against defensive players. For instance, when offensive linemen chop a defensive player, we have to get up and keep playing. Defensive players can't see those blocks coming. But now defensive guys can't go after a quarterback's legs. Or let's say you're rushing the quarterback -- you jump up to deflect a ball but come down and hit his helmet with your hand. That's a penalty. Other times you could go in with a bad angle and you might accidentally slam the quarterback to the ground. That could be a penalty. The league is overprotecting the quarterback.
Also, they say a defensive guy can't lead with his helmet. Well, when a running back goes to run over you, what's he leading with? It's the same thing. But the rules are made to protect the offensive players, not the defensive guys.
Here's another one: the new rule against hitting a "defenseless receiver." How do we know if he's defenseless or not? He's going up for a ball, and the play happens so fast. One more: Remember when Hines Ward blindsided that guy in Cincinnati, Keith Rivers, last season? That hit isn't legal, because Hines hit him above the shoulders. But on that play, it would've been OK for Hines to hit him on the knee. Personally, I'd rather take a shot in the head than have someone take my knees out. At least I can see a head shot coming.
You have to make sure the rules go both ways. One rule I can understand is the horse-collar tackle, because someone can get really hurt. That's one they should never change.
• We won the Super Bowl last season, and expectations are high. We know we've got a target on our back. Every team we play acts like we're their biggest game of the year. Whenever we come to town it seems like the stadium is built up that week. I think other teams like to match up with us just to see where they stand. They know we're going to play hard-nosed football, hit hard and run the ball. That means they're going to have to play at 100 percent to beat us.
When Chicago beat us in Week 2, you'd think they'd just won the Super Bowl. And when we went down and lost to Cincinnati, you'd think they just won Super Bowl XLIV. Some teams can handle winning, some can't. We're used to winning, so we know how to handle it. We also know how to handle when we lose, too. It all goes back to the guys we have. We know it's a long season, and we know where we need to be by the end of the year. We'll get there.
• I grew up in Saginaw, Mich., and went to college at Michigan, so it's great to get back home this week. The first NFL game I ever saw in person was a Lions game. Every week that I have the opportunity to go on the field is special to me, but I'm looking forward to having my family there to watch me play near my hometown. A lot of my friends have been talking about this game since the schedule came out, and some people haven't seen me play since high school. I think they're even more excited than I am right now.
• I had 11.5 sacks in 2008, but last year is last year. I was a new starter, and other teams didn't know me. They didn't have much to study, so they didn't know how to prepare for me. This year, teams are doing different things against me -- getting rid of the ball a little faster than they used to, for instance. I realize that right now my numbers are not high. Last season I had 3.5 sacks in the first four games. This year, first four games: zero.
But last year I also had seven games without a sack. Everything goes up and down. I used to get down on myself when I wasn't getting sacks, but it wasn't just about that. It was when I wasn't getting sacks and we were losing. That's when I get mad at myself. Most of the top pass-rushers have their ups and downs. The main thing for a pass-rusher is, how do you bounce back? For me, as long as we're winning, I'm cool. Like last week against San Diego, it was good for me to get some pressure on the quarterback, but most importantly we won.
I haven't gotten a sack yet this season, but I think I'm going to kick it off back home in Michigan this week.