2016 South Side Questions: Does It Matter If D-Will Plays?

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: Does it even matter whether or not DeAngelo Williams plays?

Veteran running back DeAngelo Williams missed the Steelers’ last game with a knee injury. He is listed as questionable to play against the Ravens on Sunday. But, assuming that Le’Veon Bell actually stays healthy during the game, I think the question needs to be asked—in practical terms, does it even matter whether or not Williams dresses?

In the Steelers’ last game, Bell played 75 of the Steelers’ 76 offensive snaps, penalty snaps included. Granted, that came with Fitzgerald Toussaint as his backup, but Toussaint is a player who had been in the system for over a year, was kept over running backs on the 53-man roster, and whom they entrusted, over a back that was on the 53 when he was on the practice squad, with the starting running back position in the playoffs.

Toussaint didn’t see just one snap because they lack trust in his abilities. He saw one snap because the offense saw no sense in taking Bell off the field, because anything Toussaint can do, Bell can do better. And that pretty much applies to Williams when he is on the field as well.

Over the middle part of the season, the Steelers have tried to tinker with the two-back set, almost always with Bell up at the line of scrimmage and Williams in the backfield, but I get the growing sense that they are beginning to see this as kind of pointless.

Obviously, they like Williams and would like to give him some opportunities, but I don’t know that they will continue to force-feed him snaps for the sake of giving him some playing time unless Bell actually needs to be spelled—or unless they want to use Bell as a receiver and yet not expose themselves to an empty backfield.

So if you really take a look at how the Steelers are and have been using their running back group, you may find that it’s a reasonable question to pose: under normal circumstances, does Williams’ presence really make much of a difference that Toussaint can’t fill?

P.S. I hope DeAngelo doesn’t read this and laugh at how stupid I am.

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