NFL teams spend countless resources trying to piece together championship rosters, but so much of the process comes down to crossing your fingers and hoping it all turns out well.
Need proof? Look no further than the two-year, $4 million contract Pittsburgh handed DeAngelo Williams this past off-season. At the time, the only clear role for Williams was as the fill-in starter for Le'Veon Bell, with Bell suspended to open the 2015 campaign. After that, it was anyone's guess.
“I want to come in and help them be productive on offense,” Williams said when signed, per the Steelers' website. “Whether that means me coming off the bench, giving the offensive line water, making sure Ben Roethlisberger's towel is dry so he can wipe his hands and throw the ball better ... whatever it takes for us to win a Super Bowl, I’m willing and able to do it.”
Well, Williams has been far more than the Steelers could have hoped for, including a 165-total yard performance in a 45–10 rout of the Colts Sunday night. And that is kind of a running theme for Pittsburgh's offense, which, when Roethlisberger is healthy, is the most dangerous in the NFL.
Everyone is well aware of former sixth-round pick Antonio Brown, who scored three times vs. Indianapolis. There's also Williams, on a bargain deal, as well as third-rounder Markus Wheaton and fourth-rounder Martavis Bryant. Fifth-round rookie Jessie James made three important catches early Sunday to help awaken the Pittsburgh offense. Oh, and Roethlisberger's blindside is currently being protected by undrafted former U.S. Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva.
Sure, the Steelers' offensive success starts and ends with their remarkable quarterback—a first-round pick. But even the best of the best need help. Just ask Aaron Rodgers, who has scuffled all season minus Jordy Nelson; or Tom Brady, who hit the wall Sunday without Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis.
The NFL is a league full of superstars. The true contenders find depth where others may not necessarily be looking.
“I tell the guys all the time: We're all the best, as a unit,” Brown told NBC's Michele Tafoya, shortly after taking a punt return to the house. “As those guys get better and I get better, we're going to win more games.”
Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has not hit all home runs with his personnel moves. At least on offense, though, he has done yeoman's work surrounding Roethlisberger with the pieces he needs to keep things moving.
It's all coming together right now, even with Bell sidelined for the season by a knee injury. The Colts certainly had no answers once Pittsburgh found its groove, sometime around the midpoint of the second quarter. Starting when Roethlisberger and Brown connected on the first of their two TD passes (and one of four from Big Ben), the Steelers ripped off 39 unanswered points to close the game.
“Have fun. That's what we said in the locker room,” Roethlisberger said. “We wanted the world to see what ... the Pittsburgh Steelers have when we play ball.”
Indianapolis tried to throw off the Pittsburgh attack by mixing and matching its coverages. Eventually, the Steelers figured things out, attacking deep when the one-on-one matchups were there and probing intermediate routes when they weren't.
Roethlisberger and Bryant hooked up for a 68-yard touchdown—the explosive Bryant leaving Colts CB Greg Toler in his wake. Brown and Roethlisberger later beat Vontae Davis (and safety Mike Adams) on the opposite side of the field, as Roethlisberger dropped a beautiful pass just over Brown's shoulder.
What real answer is there? No matter how the Colts played it, the Steelers found advantageous situations, both through the air and on the ground.
Said Colts coach Chuck Pagano: “They kicked our a--.”
That level of dominance does not happen overnight. Take one key piece out of the mix—Brown, Bryant, Williams or especially Roethlisberger—and the whole system would threaten to fall apart. The Steelers' offense is not an elite one just because of the Roethlisberger-Brown combination, but because it can keep right on humming if that sensational connection falters.
There are hiccups, as is almost always the case. Counting two lost fumbles Sunday night (one on special teams), Pittsburgh now has committed 16 turnovers in its past six games. The Steelers also lost a shootout last week, 39–30 to the Seahawks, as its defense faltered.
Their success Sunday certainly does not guarantee anything moving forward, not even a playoff spot.
Should they qualify for the postseason, though, no team would want to see the Steelers in January This offense simply causes too many headaches, raises too many questions for any opposing defense.
Roethlisberger is irreplaceable at quarterback. But he wouldn't be thriving the way he is without the Steelers constantly uncovering less heralded standouts to play alongside him.