The Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams was coming off a 170 yard performance against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9, and was going against the worst run defense in the NFL in Week 10. Despite the Cleveland Browns' horrid run stopping ability through Weeks 1-9, they were stout against the run Sunday, holding Williams to 54 yards rushing.
So, what went wrong? How could the Steelers not open any holes when there hadn't been a team to stifle the run so much throughout 2015? Looking at the snap totals for Pittsburgh might give a glimpse as to what changed when Landry Jones went down with an injury, and Ben Roethlisberger entered the game.
Before Jones left the game with a left ankle injury, Roosevelt Nix was seeing time as the primary lead blocker for DeAngelo Williams. Nix was coming off his highest snap total of the season in Week 9 against the Oakland Raiders, and was looking to continue to expand his role within the offense as a lead blocker. However, when Jones left the game and Roethlisberger entered the game, the plays with the quarterback under center slowly evaporated.
The reason for such a change is the team didn't want to put extra stress on Roethlisberger's foot by having to come out from under center and complete 3, 5 and 7 step drops. With the team focusing primarily on the shotgun formation, it took Nix out of the game. Nix totaled just 5 plays on offense against the Browns on Sunday.
The switch to the shotgun formation also could have been a reason for Williams' struggles in the early portion of the game. Le'Veon Bell is a running back who can run the ball out of every formation. Pistol, shotgun, power...it doesn't matter, but not all running backs can claim the same thing. Williams is a running back with great vision, solid cut back ability and the speed to hit the hole with authority; nonetheless, he benefits from Nix and Heath Miller paving the way on many of his bread and butter running plays. Something he didn't have at his disposal often in Week 10.
The Steelers were able to tally 30 points, and most likely with a scrapped game plan midway through the 1st quarter. Injuries happen, and teams who fail to change typically fail. Todd Haley went to a pass-oriented offense, as the Browns continued to sell out to stop the run, and it was successful. With Roethlisberger likely healthier in Week 12 after the bye week against the Seattle Seahawks, expect Nix and Williams to pick up where they left off after the Raiders game.
For a full list of Pittsburgh Steelers snap totals vs. the Browns in Week 10, see the chart below (courtesy of Pro-Football Focus):
Steelers Snap Counts