Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers regained the services of rookie starting inside linebacker Ryan Shazier earlier this week against the Indianapolis Colts, the team chose to be cautious in reintegrating him back into the game, and into the lineup.
His snaps were divided fairly evenly between himself and Vince Williams, the second-year former sixth-round draft pick who unexpectedly found himself in a starting role last year with Larry Foote lost for the season in the opener.
In fact, he logged more playing time in this game than he had in about a year, because the Steelers took him off the field often in the second half of the season in 2013 to utilize their quarters package, which took a linebacker off the field.
But that says nothing about what the team thinks of him, even though they drafted a player at his position in the first round this year. And he rewarded the coaching staff’s belief in him by turning in a solid performance on Sunday.
Earlier in the game, Williams had been coming in and out of the game for Shazier, often when the Steelers moved to the nickel, though not exclusively. This meant he was coming on the field for third downs and similar situations.
Here, however, while the Steelers were in the nickel, he came out with the rest of the defense to begin the drive. With three receivers lined up to the right, Williams shaded that way at the snap, but he quickly closed in after the ball was handed off to Ahmad Bradshaw. The defense did a nice job of bottling him up, but it was ultimately Williams that made the read and cut inside for the tackle after a one-yard gain.
Though typically characterized as a thumper in the run game—after all, that’s what makes him so valuable on special teams—Williams does have the willingness and desire to play the pass.
He did well in coverage during his rookie preseason, which helped get him on the roster in the first place. He did well to stay in position and tackle the catch against the tight end on this play. No need to be aggressive and risk getting beaten for a big gain when playing with a lead.
After playing the run and the pass, it was time for Williams to rush the passer, at which he has had success before, particularly during the preseason when he had more opportunities. On this occasion, the Steelers rushed six, with Williams coming up the middle. He bull rushed the center and knocked him down, but not before the pass was out.
The Steelers were penalized on the previous play, which gave the Colts the ball on the 12-yard line. Bradshaw scored from there on the next snap, with Pittsburgh failing to hold the right edge to protect against a cutback. Williams came in to fill the hole Bradshaw initially hit, but he was chipped at the last second by the left guard, buying the back enough time to improvise.