D-Gaps: Beware of Woodley

With Troy Polamalu earning the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award on Monday and Clay Matthews finishing a close second, the defensive player who has had arguably the greatest start to a postseason career in NFL history has slipped under the radar in the leadup to Super Bowl XLV. He may not have earned any hardware over the past week (and the merits of his hair style have yet to be debated) but LaMarr Woodley is primed to have a big impact Sunday.

LaMarr Woodley

WoodleyWoodley set an NFL record in the AFC Championship by recording his 10th career playoff sack in just his sixth postseason game. Since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, he’s the first player to reach 10 sacks in fewer than seven career playoff games. Woodley passed Super Bowl XX MVP Richard Dent, who registered his 10th playoff sack in his seventh postseason game.

With a sack Sunday, Woodley will earn another spot in the NFL record book. He is currently tied with Mark Gastineau for the most consecutive postseason games with at least one full sack, with six. Gastineau's streak started in the 1982 wild card playoffs and stretched all the way to the 1986 Divisional Playoffs, where he registered 1.5 sacks in a loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Most Postseason Sacks, Since 2007

Can Packers keep Big Ben in the pocket?

It’s tough to find a weakness in the Packers' fifth-ranked pass defense, but Green Bay was average at best when it allowed quarterbacks to escape the pocket during the regular season.

The Packers allowed 7.3 yards per pass attempt to quarterbacks outside the pocket during the regular season, which ranked 26th in the NFL.

That number dropped to 6.4 yards per attempt when the Packers were able to keep quarterbacks between the tackles, second best in the league.

Polamalu’s trophy a good omen for Steelers

Troy Polamalu

PolamaluThroughout the season, this column has aimed to address the giant gap between the volume of offensive and defensive analysis and statistics. This gap is all the more perplexing when you consider that the NFL’s best teams are often the ones that allow the fewest points as opposed to the ones that score the most (as evidenced this season by four of the league’s top six scoring defenses reaching the conference title games and numbers one and two facing off in the Super Bowl).

Therefore, what better way to end the 2010 season than by pointing out that teams featuring the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, as the Steelers will on Sunday, are 11-1 in Super Bowls. The only Defensive Player of the Year to lose in the Super Bowl the same season he was honored was Bruce Smith, who was a Scott Norwood field goal away from winning Super Bowl XXV with the Bills following the 1990 season.

The reigning Offensive Player of the Year is just 3-9 in the Super Bowl. Since Marshall Faulk led the Rams to a win in Super Bowl XXXIV following the 1999 season, every Offensive Player of the Year to play in the league’s biggest game has come up empty: Faulk in Super Bowl XXXVI, Shaun Alexander in Super Bowl XL and Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLII.