On a night in which there were plenty of negatives to take away from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season-opening loss to the New England Patriots, there was one significant bright spot for the offense, even if the bulk of its usefulness is already half over.
That bright spot was 32-year old running back DeAngelo Williams, who proved his unjustified doubters wrong by playing an excellent all-around game against the defending Super Bowl champions, consistently producing on the ground.
The Steelers’ lone free agent pickup during the offseason to serve behind Le’Veon Bell and to start during his suspension, Williams averaged six yards per carry, rushing for 127 yards on 21 attempts, which is the most that the has had in nearly two years.
While he had just one reception for five yards, he was once again solid in pass protection, but all of that was overshadowed by what he was able to do on the ground with the ball in his hands, a vintage performance behind what has to be regarded as an encouraging ground game performance by the offensive line.
Williams did have eight runs of two yards or less, which included two carries in which he lost a yard, none of which could be blamed on his own performance. The veteran got everything that was blocked for him consistently throughout the night, and often more.
In fact, he started off the night by ripping off an 18-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, finding the cutback lane off the right side and spinning through contact on the tackle attempt by the safety to add yards after contact down the field.
It was the first of four carries that went for double figures including a game-high 28-yard run that came on the Steelers’ first play of the second half, finding space up the middle, hitting the crease and getting off to the races to take what he could get.
Later in that same drive, he had back-to-back carries of seven and 10 yards inside the red zone to take the ball down to the two-yard line. After getting one goal line carry on the night, however, the rest of the goal line work was, for some unexplained reason, handled by fullback/tight end Will Johnson, so did convert on third and inches in that instance.
Williams will have an opportunity for an extended rest before he has to start the Steelers’ home opener a week from Sunday, just in case his body needs it after receiving a workload that he has not seen in a couple of seasons. But he certainly did not show signs of fatigue down the stretch of this game against the Patriots.
Given how well Williams performed in his debut with the Steelers, it is hard not to imagine him getting a series or two per game once Bell does return from the lineup. It has taken three seasons, but it does appear that the team has managed to find an appropriate number two to run behind their All-Pro starter.