The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been without Ryan Shazier for the past two games, and with the news of him going back into a sling yesterday, there’s reason to wonder if that theme might continue for another week.
In his absence, the Steelers, as they did last year, have turned to an imbalanced rotation between Sean Spence, a fourth-year former third-round pick who plays in the base defense, and Vince Williams, a third-year former sixth-round pick who plays in the nickel.
Both got a lot of playing time in the last game, so we can break them down separately. Williams got a considerable uptick in snaps against the Ravens, logging around 30 snaps, with playing time centering around the second quarter, early in the third, and in overtime.
Early in the second, on his first series, Williams was pitted against Ravens tight end Maxx Williams, who beat the third-year linebacker for a seven-yard reception on third and six. Williams, the linebacker, was a bit slow-footed breaking on the route, and allowed the tight end to stretch out for the necessary yardage to move the chains.
Later in the drive, however, Williams delivered on his forte, the running game, where he took on the block of the center, freeing his play-side arm to assist on the tackle on second and long. The Ravens turned it over on the next play.
On the first play of the Ravens’ first full drive of the third quarter, Williams was caught biting on play action and stumbled changing direction in his attempt to recover and cover the fullback breaking to the flat. Fortunately the cornerback was there to blow him up for a short gain.
It was a few plays later in the same drive when Williams had a replicate opportunity as the afore-referenced run stop coming out to stack against the center, only this time he could not make the play, which led to a 12-yard run.
His performance in overtime was a different story, however, as he played a very solid game in extra time. On the Ravens’ first play of extended action, he was able to elude the center altogether, crashing into and leveraging against the pulling right tackle to make the play on the running back after a short gain.
On the Ravens’ final drive, which proved to be the game-winner, the third-year veteran did an excellent job of sliding laterally to the ball and accelerating when the angle presented itself to make the play on the running back after another short gain.
Williams also registered an assist, though in my estimation he should have been credited with the primary tackle, on the final offensive play of the game, a third and one rush that forced the Ravens to attempt a 52-yard field goal to win the game. Had they gone on to miss that, obviously the third-down stop would have meant a great deal.