By Matthew Marczi
This past week, the Pittsburgh Steelers got back to using their sub-packages heavily, which obviously translates to fewer snaps for rookie starting inside linebacker Vince Williams.
Williams played just 31 snaps this week—as opposed to the 41 played by Cortez Allen or the 36 combined split between Shamarko Thomas and Will Allen.
It is likely as much a means of moderating the rookie’s playing time so as not to overwhelm him, given that he is also the defensive signal caller, as it is a desire to get more defensive backs on the field.
Still, though his playing time is limited each week, there has been obvious improvement in Williams’ game from the beginning of the season to now. He is becoming more consistent, though not flawless, and that he is more comfortable in his assignments is evident.
This past game against the Buffalo Bills displayed another strong effort against the run, but not all of his good work ends up on the stats sheet.
Take this play, for instance, in which he is integral to blowing up a running play for a loss, yet gets zero credit for it. Pre-snap, he slowly crept up to the line of scrimmage. As the ball was snapped, he burst through the A Gap with center Eric Wood unable to stop him and left guard Doug Legursky forced to bail out in order to pick up Lawrence Timmons.
As a result, Williams was able to slip into the backfield and give chase to C.J. Spiller around the edge, who was ultimately met by William Gay to force a loss of a yard. Without Williams, Spiller would not have been forced to stay back rather than cut up field, if even for a yard or two.
Later in the first quarter, his read and react was sound, covering the A Gaps and attacking Fred Jackson. His presence forced the back to the edge, where LaMarr Woodley and Ike Taylor were already waiting, with Williams on his legs for an assisted tackle.
This play is just an example of good defense. The line flowed to the right, with Taylor guarding the perimeter and Williams the inside. Timmons and Cameron Heyward were in position to contest a cutback. Jackson had little choice on his play but to try to cut inside and see if he could break a tackle.
Williams was the first one to try to bring him down, and he didn’t miss.