On Sunday night, the Steelers drubbed the Chiefs 43-14… a score which is misleadingly closer than the game actually was. The game, and its important statistics, can be summed up as follows:
- -Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown in a home game for the 40th straight game.
- -In his first game back, Le’Veon Bell showed no rust, by leading the NFL with 144 rushing yards.
- -The 22 points scored by the Steelers in the first quarter is a franchise record.
- -Vince Williams showed why I felt that the Steelers did not need to draft Ryan Shazier.
Yes, you read that last part correctly. Leading up to the 2014 draft, the discussion among Steelers’ fans about whom the Steelers should draft was an interesting one. Obviously, there was the ubiquitous requiem for a cornerback (Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller), but over at the now defunct Steelers Fever, the user poll predicted that the Steelers would draft C.J. Mosley (inside linebacker, Alabama). The rationale was that Pittsburgh’s defense is predicated on having a strong set of inside linebackers, and thus, an upgrade was needed.
Despite what my compadres felt, my stance was that that dynamic linebacker was already on the roster: Vince Williams. In turn, I was a proponent of drafting Déone Bucannon (strong safety, Washington State). Living on the west coast, Pac-12 games are on television ad nauseum; hence, I was privy to witnessing Bucannon destroying receivers on a regular basis. Ergo, Bucannon would have been my choice in that draft. Regardless of my opinion on the matter, the Steelers agreed with the Steelers Fever poll, and thus, they drafted the speedy inside linebacker from Ohio State: Ryan Shazier.
I readily admit that Shazier has the potential to become the most dynamic inside linebacker in the NFL, akin to the way that Troy Polamalu revolutionized the strong safety position. That said, as Bill Parcells once said: a player’s most important ability is availability. In other words, Ryan Shazier plays with such reckless abandon that he has already missed twelve games (of his first thirty-six).
So, with Shazier out (again), Williams had a chance to show what he can do, and against the Chiefs, he did not disappoint. In addition to recording a sack, Williams racked up fifteen tackles, which was nine more than any other Steeler. It was not just the number of tackles that were impressive, it was the energy that he brought. For example, on one Kansas City drive, Williams made three tackles out of five plays. Likewise, on a touchdown-saving tackle, Williams avoided making the “easy” horsecollar tackle, and instead he reached around the front of the running back, grabbed his jersey, and brought him down (without getting a personal foul penalty).
Now… imagine if you had Déone Bucannon lining up behind Williams on this defense. Pretty good, right?
Similarly, imagine the Steelers’ offense with Odell Beckham, Jr. lined up across from Antonio Brown. I think that Sammie Coates is starting to turn into a well-rounded receiver (not just a deep threat), but ODB is simply on another plane. For example, in his first two seasons, he had more receiving yards (2,744) than Randy Moss (2,726). Before you remind me that ODB was drafted three picks before Shazier, remember that Mike Tomlin tried to trade up with the Giants.
In summation, my intention is not to minimize how good Shazier is, nor is it to pine over “what could have been”, and it is certainly not to taunt others with an “I told you so.” My sole purpose is to highlight just how good Williams truly is. When Shazier returns, Williams will likely return to the bench… waiting patiently for his chance to once again shine. In the meantime, when you add Lawrence Timmons to the fray, along with the aforementioned Shazier and Williams, the quality and depth at inside linebacker is as good as has been in many, many years.