Earlier this season, I wrote about Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and his seemingly questionable decision to try to find a role for running back DeAngelo Williams by giving him the short-yardage role for a game behind Le’Veon Bell.
In that article, I advocated for the idea of finding a bigger role for Williams in the offense behind a back such as Bell who could play every snap if you let him, contending that the 32-year-old veteran had earned the right to see some playing time.
Of course, circumstances have changed since then, with Bell suffering a season-ending MCL tear and leaving Williams to start the last eight games of the regular season, and he certainly hit the ground running, post a career-high 225 total yards from scrimmage on 29 touches, including 170 yards on the ground.
27 of those touches were runs, and two of them finished in the end zone, each from three yards out. On the season, Williams now has five touchdown runs, and all of them have come from within three yards of the goal line.
In fact, on the season, Williams has been pretty successful throughout the year in short-yardage situations, having been given 20 carries on plays in which the offense needed three yards or less for a first down, regardless of the down. On 12 of those plays, he gained the necessary yardage to move the sticks.
While he averaged just 2.15 yards on those 20 carries, for a total of 43 yards, the average yardage necessary to pick up was just 1.5 yards. He only posted runs of zero or negative yardage on six of those 20 plays, three being zero, and four coming in situations of needing one yard or less.
In terms of successful runs, I would classify all 14 in which he gained positive yardage a success. On 12 occasions, he gained the necessary yardage to move the sticks or score, which he did five times. On the other two occasions, he picked up one yard on second-and-two situations.
When it comes to third- and fourth-and-short situations, Williams has been given seven such carries, all of them with just one yard to go. He was stopped for no gain on three of them, converting on the other four.
One of those instances included a third-and-one stop followed by a three-yard touchdown run on fourth down, which occurred on Sunday against the Raiders, so in that respect, he has been successful in four of six short-yardage scenarios.
My argument against using Williams as a short-yardage specialist never came from the perspective of a lack of belief in his ability to find success in this area. Rather, there seemed to be no compelling reason to identify this area in which to take Bell off the field.
Now that Williams is the starting running back for the rest of the year, I would see no compelling reason for the Steelers to try to carve out a short-yardage role for another back on the roster, especially in light of his prolific success near the goal line—which is what Tomlin did with Will Johnson, for some reason, in the season opener.