Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Vince Williams has been a tough sell to fans as a full-time, every-down starter, something that is more a product of the way that the game is played today based on rule changes than of his actual capacity for the participation in the game of football.
The knock against him is of course that he doesn’t have the athleticism and speed to stick with the game’s gifted tight ends and running backs of today. While his limitations do creep up from time to time, however, he hasn’t been a liability in coverage, and an asset overall. Last week’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals seemed like a quintessential example.
Take the first third-down play of the game for the Bengals, facing a third and 10. Williams was in zone coverage over the middle. Andy Dalton dumped the ball out to gifted receiving back Joe Mixon climbing over the middle from an outside alignment, but he was met at the line of scrimmage by the subject of this article for no gain.
Things did not work out quite as well later on the Bengals’ second attempt on third and 10 later in the quarter. He ended up being matched one-on-one with A.J. Green, who predictably beat the linebacker on a post pattern for a 19-yard gain inside the 10-yard line.
He did follow that up with a run stop on the following play on first and goal from the nine. The Bengals attempting to run zone, Mixon elected to cut back through the backside B Gap, where he was met by Williams and Javon Hargrave.
After recording eight sacks a season ago, it took him six games to get his first in 2018, but this one did not come in his typical brutal blitzing fashion. He was in fact initially in coverage, but came in late as Dalton scrambled.
Later in the quarter, however, he was slow to read Mixon on what ended up as a 17-yard run on second and 14. The second-year back, who initially lined up on the side opposite of where he ultimately pursued, made a quality jump cut right behind his linemen in order to use his speed to get to the edge. At that point, Williams had no chance of catching up in time.
But he would get the better of Mixon in coverage late in the game, on two plays in particular, even if one was technically ‘successful’, a six-yard gain on second and 10. He was in man coverage on the back out of the slot, running a crossing pattern, and made a strong open-field tackle after initially trailing him.
Later in the game, the Bengals sent Mixon up the right sideline to stress Williams in coverage, but he did a nice job of staying with the back. He could have done a cleaner job at the catch point, but still prevented the play from being made.