During the course of this season, I could not help but to notice how many similarities I suddenly find between the running styles of DeAngelo Williams and Le’Veon Bell. Williams, of course, is in his 10th season, while Bell is in just his third, but I have watched every snap of Bell’s career, so his style has stuck out to me more in recent years.
Both backs show tremendous patience in the backfield, and have the forethought to set up their blockers while reading the defense and knowing how to force themselves into taking the wrong hole. It was a beautiful thing to watch Bell run, but it’s hard to argue that watching Williams run has been much different.
The similarities between the two in the backfield don’t end there, however. Both have proven to be skilled pass protectors. Williams, in fact, might even have the edge there. He has put a couple of edge rushers on their seat in recent weeks throwing chip blocks.
But it would be hard not to notice how the veteran back has been getting more involved in the passing game in recent weeks, which is something that has come to define Bell, who last year was second on the team in receptions and receiving yards.
Yesterday was the high point of the season for him in the passing game, posting a season-high seven receptions to go along with 88 yards through the air. Five of his receptions went for double figures, including a season high of 34 yards, which came just a play before the game-sealing interception.
In three of the last four games, however, Williams has posted at least 39 yards though the air, and for the season now has 20 receptions for 225 yards. That his paired with his 563 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 115 carries, adding the most recent score from six yards out yesterday.
You would have to go all the way back to Williams’ rookie season to find the one single better receiving game that he has ever had. During a Week 13 loss to the Eagles, the then-rookie caught seven passes for 101 yards and a touchdown.
It was the only time in his career that he has ever cracked 100 yards through the air, and the only other time he has ever had seven receptions in a game. His 88 receiving yards against the Seahawks is the second-most he’s ever had in his career.
Williams’ 225 receiving yards so far in 2015 is already the fourth-highest total of his career. His best season as a receiver may have been in 2013, when he caught 26 passes for 333 yards. Back in his rookie season, he caught 33 passes for 313 yards. He also caught 29 passes for 252 yards in 2009.
He stands a good chance to pass all of those marks this year. Correcting for the games that he was not involved because of Bell, Williams is on pace for roughly 35 receptions and about 400 yards. That estimate could be conservative if Ben Roethlisberger builds his rapport with the veteran back and thus targets him more, as he learned to trust Bell.