Thursday, September 15, 2016


By Robert O'Connell
September 13, 2016

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Running back DeAngelo Williams was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football. (

The hardest thing for an NFL running back to do is remain an NFL running back. The position requires both the ability and willingness to charge headfirst into literal tons of humanity dozens of times a game, and those traits tend to belong to 22-year-olds more than 27-year-olds, and to 27-year-olds more than 30-year-olds. Inexperience amounts to a virtue, since experience means wear. The transition from All-Pro to forced retiree is quick and no longer surprising; it's part of the job.
Monday night in Washington, Pittsburgh's 33-year-old backup running back DeAngelo Williams, filling in for a suspended Le'Veon Bell, ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, adding six catches for 28 yards for good measure. Though the totals got some boosting from a mostly speculative Washington defense, the night was also a prime example of the talents that have let Williams last so long. Despite his former role as the "Dash" to Jonathan Stewart's "Smash" during their tandem glory days in Carolina, Williams is a classically complete back, with strong shoulders and light feet and vision every bit as keen as it was in his mid-20s. He's a bowling ball between the tackles and a tap dancer at the edge. Most remarkably, he's seemed to make his age into a kind of blessing; he knows which of his abilities to call on at a given moment in a way only a veteran can. In a game designed to use him up, he's still useful, and plays with a rare headiness.
Behind a Pittsburgh line that plainly bullied Washington's front, Williams worked for the most part up the middle, padding along for a moment or two before plowing forward for six yards. For someone at the middle of a lot of scrums, he took few painful-looking hits (contrast this with Washington back Matt Jones, who finished his runs like someone taking a shotgun blast to a bulletproof vest). A key component to carrying a football that many times at that age is knowing how and when to fall.
The consummate Williams run, though, came around the left end. With just under six minutes to go and the Steelers up eight, the game in their control but not yet fully over, Williams took a handoff and surveyed things from behind the safety of his blockers, but the wall of linemen ran out with two Washington defenders unaccounted-for at the end. Williams gave the slightest of shimmies and skipped shoulder-ways right between them, then 15 more yards for the touchdown that put the game out of reach.
By the end of it, Williams was the first rusher of his age to have such an impressive game since Emmitt Smith put up 127 yards as a 35-year-old in 2004, but he also stood out in comparison to his present-day colleagues, becoming only the second back to run for 100 or more yards in the opening week of games. The days of the central stat-stuffing RB are increasingly on the wane; even Williams's brilliance was matched by that of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, who connected for eight routinely spectacular completions and two touchdowns. NFL offenses belong to quarterbacks and receivers, now, and the job of the backs is to provide a little contrast and blocking for as long as they can. It's tough work, and people don't last long at it. So while Williams's game on Monday was spectacular, the best rushing performance of the week, it was secondary. The real triumph was being on the field to begin with.

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