This article was supposed to be a critique of Vince Williams, the next one in my “One Step To Take” series where we isolate one specific area each player can get better in. It was easy to look at him in coverage, I watched nearly every play of him against the pass last season, and think you’d find an issue. After all, that’s the long-running narrative on him. Great against the run, liability versus the pass.
Turns out, that wasn’t really the case at all.
Of course, there were isolated issues in coverage Williams had over last year but they were few and far between with no recurring problems.
I will start with one of those issues. One that actually he admitted on Twitter was one of his biggest demerits. 3rd down against New England, the Steelers let Tom Brady start a scramble drill (the first issue, to be fair). Williams doesn’t “plaster” in coverage the way you’re taught, playing through the whistle, allowing running back James White to get space on the sideline. Brady hits him and the Pats move the sticks.
There were, naturally, a couple of other minor issues. Some overpursuing in coverage and getting knocked off by receivers at the top of the route. But that’s some serious nitpicking and didn’t happen more than once or twice. No one is going to be perfect.
When Williams is able to drop into zone coverage, he’s able to keep routes in front of him. With the ball thrown underneath, it basically turns into playing the run, something we can all agree he does exceptionally well. Reads, rallies, wraps up Matt Forte. Consistently, Williams did a tremendous job limiting YAC.
But we know the team will ask him to man up and zone spot drops can become man coverage when tight ends and receivers enter his zone. He did surprisingly well there. What I like about Williams’ game is how physical he is, something you’d expect from how he plays. He’s able to reroute and bump receivers off their stem, ruining the timing of plays and funneling to his help. That’s something the Steelers’ defense sorely has lacked and a compounding reason why their zone, spot drop defense has struggled. Too many easy, free releases.
His toughest matchup, without question, was Rob Gronkowski. The Steelers had big problems with Gronk, clearly, and he exploded for two long plays, one for a touchdown. But Vince? He did well when matched up. One of his best plays in coverage the entire year. He jams Gronk five yards off the line and then gets in his hip pocket as Gronk breaks on his out cut. Brady is forced to pull the ball down and scramble.
VW is lined up towards the bottom of the screen against Gronk, standing up at the end of the LOS.
Do you remember any other Steeler looking so competent vs Gronk? Ever?
Not the only example. The big issue is if he can carry receivers downfield. He is never going to stack up against an actual receiver on fire zones, but he never got beat downfield either.
Here, vs a stacked look, he carries the new #2 receiver down the seam towards his help. And that’s a wide receiver, mind you.
Here are the main coverages we expect the Steelers to run this year.
In 2 Man, he’ll be matched up against a back or tight end. He can handle that. In Cover 3, he’ll be playing either a middle or hook (curl/flat) zone. That’s where he is best, able to get depth, read the play in front, and attack. Cover 2 is a little trickier, who is the deep middle defender, but I haven’t seen evidence that Williams is going to struggle mightily there. And perhaps Ryan Shazier is used more often; the team has options.
I attempted, bu wound up struggling, to find anything tangible and on tape that suggests Williams is going to have a tough time in coverage. No one is thinking it’ll be his calling card but he’ll do fine in the scheme the Steelers are going to use.
Williams reminds me of a better version of Robert Golden. Might not have the splash but steady in all areas. Creates comfort and reliability. Detail-oriented guy. And oh yeah, he’ll knock you into next Tuesday, too. That’s Steeler football.