By Matthew Marczi
Outside of coming up short on a tackle at the goal line that helped allow a Stevan Ridley touchdown, Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams played a solid game against the New England Patriots.
Much of the damage that New England inflicted on the ground—as well as through the air—came against the Steelers’ dime defense. Of the team’s 77 defensive snaps, Williams played 37, of which only 18 (out of 38) were against the run.
While he has had some growing pains during his rookie season, he has also consistently shown some commendable traits that give hope for the future. His quick diagnosis of plays is certainly well above the average first-year player, for instance. As the play below shows, he also has, at times, a knack of shedding and eluding blockers to get to the ball carrier.
Williams looked as though he was about to be sandwiched between Dan Connolly and Rob Gronkowski, but because he got such a quick read on the ball, he was able to slip in between the two blockers and bring Ridley down after a four-yard gain. He showed similar attributes throughout the night, as on this early third quarter carry.
This time, it was the left guard, Logan Mankins, coming up short in his attempt to halt the linebacker on the second level, but with his head lowered, Williams easily side-stepped him and joined LaMarr Woodley in making the tackle after a short gain. But then there was the touchdown just before halftime.
The first thing about this play I actually notice is that Troy Polamalu is overly eager to try to make something happen. In his rush to find a lucrative spot on the line, he bumped into Lawrence Timmons, which slowed his pursuit to the gap, and most certainly contributed to the score.
With Ziggy Hood getting utterly barnstormed into the ground by Connolly and Marcus Cannon, and Cameron Heyward unable to evade the cut block, it was all down the Williams to make the stop. The problem is that he took one step too many to his left, and as a result left him in poor position to make a play, as seen by the meek shoulder flick he is able to generate above.
On the plus side, he is still doing his job when asked to drop in coverage. He was asked to shade the back a fair number of times throughout the game, and on this occasion he was able to come a long way to hold Ridley to a short three-yard reception. Notice that the Patriots ran a crossing route right in front of his path, and he was forced to take a circuitous route to catch up to the back. He showed a nice burst on the recovery here.
It is the instincts that he shows in flashes on plays such as the above that keep me hopeful of Williams’ future. To my mind, he has already shown that he is capable of playing and functioning in this league. The question that remains unanswered is at what level. He’ll certainly have his hands full against the backs of the Buffalo Bills, and he’s coming off a concussion as well.