It’s still early, but, while the Pittsburgh Steelers are fortunate to have advanced to the playoffs, they are facing the very real possibility of entering the postseason wounded severely at the tailback position, losing their acting starting running back in the regular season finale.
Last year, Le’Veon Bell suffered a knee injury in the final game and was unable to play during the playoffs. The Steelers had already released LeGarrette Blount earlier in the year, who was seen as his complementary back, and thus were left with just Dri Archer, Josh Harris, and the journeyman free agent they just signed, Ben Tate.
This year, the Steelers had already lost Bell after playing in six games, but were able to settle in with DeAngelo Williams, who rushed for over 900 yards and caught another 350 or so along with 11 rushing touchdowns in 10 starts.
Coincidentally, he, too, went down in the regular season finale, and the Steelers are left without a particularly savory alternative in the event that Williams is unable to play on Saturday night after a defender landed on his ankle during a tackle.
Pittsburgh only has two other running backs on the roster, and neither of them were with the team during training camp—in fact, they played against one of them during the preseason, which is likely partly why he was brought in.
But don’t expect the Steelers to bring somebody in as they did last year, even without a household name in the backfield. What that have in-house now will be a better option in terms of knowledge of the system, which would offset any talent gap among potential free agent running backs who could come in and start in less than a week’s time.
I think this is a lesson that the team learned last year with Tate, who started and played well for a few plays before fumbling, and then making key mistakes later in the game that cost the team, which were due to his limited knowledge of the offense.
Should Williams be unable to go, Fitzgerald Toussaint would figure to get the start. Toussaint has only been on the 53-man roster for the past five games, but he has been with the organization for all of the regular season, signing to the practice squad eventually after the final cuts.
Since his promotion, he has overtaken Jordan Todman on the depth chart, whom the Steelers were interested in after playing him against the Panthers. Todman is a journeyman who can do a bit of everything, with the evidence available on tape, even if he has spent the most recent games on the inactive list behind Williams and Toussaint.
The Steelers have also shown that they are willing to use Will Johnson as a running back if necessary, as they did in the season opener, during which he scored a touchdown. With the combination of those three players, Pittsburgh will hope to cobble together a backfield sufficient enough to win without outside help, should Williams have to miss time.