By Matthew Marczi
When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted rookie inside linebacker Vince Williams in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, they most certainly didn’t envision him starting most of the season next to Lawrence Timmons.
Of course, plans can change on the fly, as it did when veteran Larry Foote was lost for the season on opening day. When the season ends, Williams will likely have played about 400 snaps in his rookie season—far more than could have been expected—while starting 11 games.
He was brought in as a heady player and a thumper in the run game, but who may be shaky in pass coverage, having been a two-down linebacker in college. Pittsburgh’s last game against the Green Bay Packers more or less supports that scouting report.
Williams played all of two snaps in the first quarter of the game with the Steelers choosing to start in their nickel, where they’ve taken to using Terence Garvin, or using their quarters defense. He played most of the second quarter, however, and the first play of the quarter supports the idea that he’s a better downhill player than when he’s asked to run backward.
It must be admitted that this is first and foremost a good offensive play by Matt Flynn, finding Jarrett Boykin between the underneath coverage of Williams and Cortez Allen’s coverage over the top. The issue with Williams here is that he exacerbated the problem after the catch by impeding Allen’s ability to make the tackle.
He was more in his comfort zone on the next player though when the Packers handed it off to Eddie Lacy. Here he does a good job of reading the blockers and staying on top of the play. When fullback John Kuhn took on Stevenson Sylvester, it left Williams one-on-one with Lacy, and he pulled the back down after a gain of one.
Later on the same drive, the Packers threw a bunch formation look on third and one. Williams appears to be expecting Troy Polamalu to be covering James Jones rather than jumping the shallow route. As a result, Williams was caught going forward and had to backpedal, but it was far too late.
Two plays later, Williams actually missed on a play that he’s made several times this year, blowing up a wide screen. He had a chance to drop Lacy for a loss here, though he only managed to gain one anyway, and it was a first and 20 play after a hold called on the play before.
After Le’Veon Bell fumbled, the Packers tried to get cute on offense, inserting nose tackle B.J. Raji at fullback. But thanks to Williams, that idea backfired.
Williams met Raji head on in the B Gap, took the brunt of the impact, bounced off, and tackled Lacy for a loss of two yards on what was first and goal from the three. The rookie linebacker was rightfully pumped after the play as Raji was left to put his hands in the air, either in protest of some imagined wrong or simply in disbelief over how the rookie embarrassed him despite his massive size advantage.