Steelers Need DeAngelo Williams Of Old In Weeks 1-3

When looking across the NFL landscape, there aren’t a whole lot of running backs ages 30 and older who scream productivity. Frank Gore looks to be the lone exception, as he ran for 1,106 yards last year for the San Francisco 49ers. Now 32 years of age, the Indianapolis Colts are looking to Gore to revitalize a stagnant ground game as they’re in “win-now” mode, aimed clearly at the Super Bowl or bust.

Pittsburgh clearly learned from their mistake of signing bad boy running back, LeGarrette Blount, last offseason when they went out and signed classic good-guy, DeAngelo Williams, to play second fiddle to star Le’Veon Bell, who will miss up to the first three games of next season, pending the outcome of his appeal. Williams, who is also 32, is coming off his worst season as a pro, in which he was only healthy for 6 games, as ankle and hand injuries derailed him.

However, in this case, age could be looked at as just a figure, as we compare the two runners and their career statistics. Gore has logged 2,442 career rushing attempts, not including the playoffs, to Williams’ 1,432 career rush attempts. That’s almost 1,000 less carries of slamming the ball between the tackles into 300-pound defenders and far less tread on the tires. It’s also worth noting that Gore has sustained multiple anterior cruciate ligament injuries over the course of his career as well.

“Trust me when I say that I’ve got a LOT of gas left in the tank,” Williams wrote on his Twitter, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Williams will be the starter, by default, in Bell’s absence and will be expected to shoulder the load in those contests, and when Bell returns, he’ll be expected to provide the occasional breather for the Steelers’ workhorse. We will take a look at those first three contests and the run defenses that Williams will have to navigate if Pittsburgh wants to stay afloat in the rough-and-tumble AFC North.

Week 1 at New England – In this contest, minus Tom Brady presumably, the Steelers might ultimately wind up being favored, facing off against a second-year QB making his first NFL start in Jimmy Garoppolo. On defense, the Patriots have some undeniable talent at the inside linebacker spot, with Dont’a Hightower and the athletic Jamie Collins. They even have the former Pro Bowler, Jerod Mayo, returning from injury. What they’ll be missing though is the bedrock of their defensive line for the better part of the last decade or so, Vince Wilfork. The team ranked ninth against the run last season, only giving up six touchdowns and 104.3 yards per game. However, it’ll be on younger players such as their first round pick, the 6-foot-2, 319-pound Malcom Brown of Texas and Dominique Easley, their 2014 first rounder. If Pittsburgh can create a lead via their explosive offense and create some turnovers on D, the ground game will look to be featured. If Williams closes in on around 20 carries, I’d say he tips over the century mark in a Steelers’ win.

Week 2 hosting San Francisco – The 49ers actually ranked higher in the run defense rankings than the Patriots, coming in seventh in 2014. But let’s dig deeper, and we see a complete facelift on the defensive side of the ball. Gone are the heart and soul of the defense, Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, and so are Ray McDonald and Chris Borland. In their place steps in Navorro Bowman, who’s returning from a serious knee injury. Their first round pick, Arik Armstead, looks the part but he’s not going to step in from day one and reap the type of production that Smith created. I believe in this one, two young defenses are the similarity but the major difference is the offensive firepower that Pittsburgh has, which SF simply doesn’t. If Williams can keep the defense honest, by gaining maybe 75-80 yards on the ground, that should make the defense susceptible over the top to big plays, and I think Pittsburgh squeaks by for the W.

Week 3 at St. Louis – Depending how Bell’s appeal turns out, he could very well be back in the lineup for this one, and his pass-catching skills may be needed, as running room may be scarce. The Rams have arguably the most talented defensive line in football, littered with first rounders. Their defensive line is basically the pedigree equivalent to that of the Pittsburgh linebacking corps except they’re getting the immediate production, including last year’s AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, Aaron Donald, who gained nine sacks. He’s joined by Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers and even super-sub free agent pickup, Nick Fairley along the defensive front. Running room could be scarce in this one, and with the way their defense can rush the passer, the offensive line could very well have it’s hands full. Depending on who wins the turnover battle will go a long way in deciding the outcome. The one thing about Williams though is he’s an adequate pass blocker, and his skills might be needed in this one to keep Ben Roethlisberger’s jersey clean.

At the end of the day, is Williams on Bell’s level? The answer is no, but he can help Pittsburgh win ball games, especially in the first several weeks of the season. If Pittsburgh can get off to a 3-0 or 2-1 start, I think the Williams signing can be viewed as a big success, as he’s a vast improvement over what we saw in last year’s playoff game loss.

  • John C

    What is up with Bell’s appeal?

  • pittfan

    Lucas, let me pick a bone with you. These references to the deficiency at the running back position in the playoff game are getting on my nerves. Right from the get, nobody showed confidence in Josh Harris, even though he had that 50+yr run against the bungoles. Even bringing in Tate and starting him was a bit of a slap. I could be 100% wrong but I thought the kid could have done a decent job but he didn’t have a lot of support except maybe from his teammates.

    Nice write up otherwise. It will be interesting to see how the Pats do without 75 plugging the middle. and the ratbirds for that matter w/o ngata.

  • Louis Goetz

    He ran through a hole that was a mile wide due to the holding penalty that brought the run back. And he didn’t do anything after that (9 carries for 16 yards). It’s not like he was promoted from the practice squad. He moved up to the 53-man roster because the Steelers released Blount and had no one else at all to replace him. I’ll cheer for Josh Harris louder than anyone if he gets the ball, but I don’t think anyone can really expect much from a #4 RB.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Williams could be the most important signing of the offseason this year if they win all 3 and imo it’s possible.

    IDK is Josh is it or not in terms a young backup, hopefully he can share a bit of the load with Williams and be productive during this stretch as well.

  • steeltown

    Can’t wait to see DeWilliams in full Steelers uni, running out of the backfield.

  • steeltown

    It would appear the coaching staff like Harris, they really didn’t pursue any RBs before the draft..and I remember Colbert specifically mentioning Harris coming into his 2nd season, during a pre-draft interview. I guess we’ll see.

  • The GreekGeek

    You mention the playoff loss and the RB situation ant it got me thinking. It’s interesting to see the steep decline of Ben Tate. He was at one point almost making Arian Foster expendable in Houston. Then he went to the Browns and fell apart. Maybe it was age and number of carries, but at one point this guy was a top 10 fantasy league pick… He looked really bad in that playoff game…

  • ATL96STEELER

    Signing Tate imo was a good move at the time, but starting him over Harris I didn’t quite get that one…no way he could know all the running plays, & blitz pickups in a one week…a good way to stereotype your OFC I thought.

  • ATL96STEELER

    True…not drafting anyone does bode well for Harris being the 3rd RB.

  • The GreekGeek

    I agree. I don’t know why they threw him to the wolves like that on a little more than one week I think to get ready… Maybe they see something in Harris that had them worried in practice but I don’t think he got a fair shake…