At the moment, it seems more likely than not that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be entering the postseason without DeAngelo Williams, relying upon second-year running back Fitzgerald Toussaint to carry most of the load, who was only called up from the practice squad for the final six games of the season, becoming the backup running back for the last five games.
Obviously, he has not put a lot on tape with the Steelers, having played only 46 snaps over the course of the season, with 33 of them coming in the season finale after Williams’ foot injury left him as the only true running back on the active list for the game.
In that game, he carried the ball 12 times for just 24 yards, also catching a pass for a successful two-point conversion, the more prudent issue as it pertains to his ability to keep the offense going is how he does without the ball, primarily in pass protection, which is perhaps the quickest way for a running back to earn a coach’s trust.
Toussaint was on the field for 19 pass plays including the two-point conversion attempt, staying in to block on five snaps, and throwing in a chip block for flushing out to make himself a target on three additional plays. Most of these plays are below.
The only pressure that Toussaint allowed in pass protection came in his first play of the game, coming in cold off the bench eight plays into a drive, five of which came at the top of the second quarter. When he entered, it was in a third-and-four situation, tasked with a lot of pre-snap movement.
The Browns ultimately ran a Double A Gap blitz, with a late rush from Karlos Dansby after Toussaint already began to commit to the right-side rusher. The back turned back to throw a shoulder into Dansby, but he was able to bring the quarterback down after forcing an early throw.
During the two-minute drill late in the half, Toussaint lined up in the sidecar on the right side, this time doing a nice job of squaring up and absorbing Christian Kirskey’s rush from around the right edge and providing the clean pocket to produce an 18-yard reception.
The Steelers scored two played later on a 17-yard strike into the end zone. With Dansby blitzing up the A Gap between center and right guard, Toussaint brought a load from the right side and put Dansby on the ground, stopping the interior rush.
At the top of the fourth quarter, this time from the left sidecar, Toussaint was able to throw a chip into the edge rusher to help out his left tackle, forcing the linebacker to spin out of the contact. It allowed the linemen to set himself and ultimately put the rusher on the ground.
A few plays later, to end the drive, he stayed home and helped the left guard deal with another Dansby rush up the middle, as it appeared that the was started to scrape off the block. The pass was incomplete, but Toussaint showed good instincts.
Outside of the one lapse in recognition on his first play in the game, coming cold off the bench in a pressure situation, Toussaint represented himself as well as you could hope in pass protection. If the coaching staff wasn’t already comfortable with his game in this aspect, of course, he wouldn’t have been serving as the backup, but at least now we have tape on it.