At 33-years old, Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams isn’t supposed to be leading the league in rushing, but he does.
After 11 seasons and 1,690 carries, he’s not supposed to look like the quickest, most explosive running back in the NFL.
But after two games, he certainly looks like that.
And when Le’Veon Bell returns from his suspension, Williams isn’t supposed to be a major part of the Pittsburgh offense.
But he certainly should be.
Now first off, let’s make it very clear that the Steelers shouldn’t start Williams over Bell. When he’s healthy, Bell is the best running back in football and not playing him would be clinically insane.
At this point though, Williams may not only be the second-best running back on his own team, he might be the second-best back in the entire league. And not using him as a major part of the offense would also be insane.
So clearly the Steelers have a problem. It’s a good problem to have, two superstars at one position, but it is nonetheless, a problem. How the Steelers deal with this problem will impact the season greatly.
With just one game left on his suspension, it’s a decision that Pittsburgh is going to have to make very soon. Bell will return to practice next Monday and offensive coordinator Todd Haley will need to have a plan by then.
That being said, the easy thing for Haley and the Steelers to do would be to sit Williams, who is the oldest running back in the league, and allow Bell to take over the majority of the runs.
Heck even Williams made it easy on them to do that this week. He spoke to MMQB’s Peter King after his 32 carry, 94-yard performance in Pittsburgh’s 24-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, and he ensured everyone that when Bell comes back, Williams will take a back seat.
“No! I am an insurance policy,” Williams said when asked if he’s proven that he’s more than an insurance policy for Bell. “I’m driving the car till L-Bell gets back. I’m trying to keep us in good position till he gets back. That’s good with me. When I came here, I came here to win a Super Bowl. That’s the only thing I care about.”
Now you have to commend Williams’ willingness to put the team above his own personal statistics, but for the Steelers to have a chance at winning a Super Bowl, they need both Bell and Williams making plays out of the backfield. Not just one or the other.
The bottom line is that the Steelers have an opportunity to make their offense even better by playing Bell and Williams at the same time.
Imagine the potential of the two of them in the same backfield, or one of them lined up at receiver with the other in the backfield. It would create an impossible matchup for defenders to stop.
More importantly, it would keep both running backs fresh.
In the past, with the one-back system that the Steelers have typically used, they have worn running backs down with a heavy workload. It started a few years ago when Bell had the most touches in the NFL and it has continued with Williams. At this point in the season, Williams already has 58 carries, which is significantly more than anyone else in the league.
Now that type of workload definitely is doable for a few weeks or even most of the season, but it’s not advantageous to a team looking to make a long playoff run this winter, which the Steelers are certainly looking to do.
So for the benefit of both running backs and the Steelers team as a whole, they need to remember that Williams is not just an insurance policy, and use both their star running backs.