I don’t think I’ve spent any time breaking down Vince Williams yet this year, at least not in the regular season, that I can remember, but the fifth-year former Seminole has been generally holding his own in his first full season as the starting buck linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This was a role that he had assumed—or at least hoped—was his in his second season, after he was forced into starting action as a rookie. Instead, they drafted Ryan Shazier and plugged him into the lineup right away. He’s only gotten spot starts since then, but now he and Shazier are the Shake and Bake duo.
The Lions tasked him pretty early in coverage, with Matthew Stafford getting the ball into the hands of Golden Tate in his zone on the third play in the game. Tate is one of the most physical and elusive receivers in the game, but Williams didn’t show too much difficulty wrangling him after a four-yard haul.
There were times on Sunday that the Lions’ running backs made a variety of Steelers defenders foolish, especially Ameer Abdullah. But on this play at least, Williams just wasn’t feeling it. He did a great job of reading and then hitting the gap, getting a hold on one of his legs and not letting go.
It was Williams and Abdullah again later in the second quarter, only this time the Lions were in the red zone. Seeing Tyson Alualu command a double team and L.T. Walton exploit the near gap, the linebacker followed the back off the edge, where he made the tackle after a short gain. The play drew a holding call to boot.
But it wasn’t a flawless game for him. In the middle of the third quarter, for example, he got drawn in by play action and allowed Tate a free release through his zone, catching the ball down the field for 18 yards. A personal foul on Sean Davis tacked on 15 more.
With the Steelers looking to defend on third and goal from the two, it was Williams and Davis who made the play to stop Dwayne Washington around the right edge for one yard. That forced them to settle for a field goal at the time.
Late, with just over three minutes to play, however, the defense blew a coverage between Williams and Mike Hilton. Williams was playing zone, following the slot receiver inside, while Hilton was playing man, and the result was Eric Ebron slipping through down the field for a big 44-yard gain.
That’s a pair of first-year starters combining for a breakdown in coverage late in a one-score game that led to a big play. They’re lucky the unit was ultimately able to shut the door.