DeAngelo Williams Defying Father Time in Sparking Steelers to Enviable Start

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 18, 2016

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 18:  DeAngelo Williams #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates his touchdown reception in the fourth quarter during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field on September 18, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

PITTSBURGH DeAngelo Williams stood at his locker, a smile on his face, some blood on his uniform. He looks young and sprightly for an old man.

Williams has been walking the earth so long, his first teammate was Barney Rubble.

But don't call him old to his face. Nuh-uh. Don't do it. Shut the hell up with that age talk.

"You guys in the media say that," he said. "I'm not old. I'm a football player. Only you guys bring up my age."

A teammate told him, either you're old or good. Which one is it?

The answer: He's both.

If this is what it means to be old, we should all drink whatever Williams is drinking. The 33-year-old veteran has found the fountain of football youth, in the process becoming a savior for the Steelers.

Sep 18, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe that's a bit much, but it's also not far off. Ben Roethlisberger was already slated to waltz into the Hall of Fame before starting the season with six touchdown passes in two games.

The Steelers defense has improved dramatically, holding the Redskins and Bengals to 16 points each. But one of the primary keys to the Steelers and their 2-0 start is Williams, a castoff from Carolina who spends too much time on Twitter cracking inappropriate jokes and is ancient by football standards. He has become one of the best backup players in the history of the NFL.

In fact, it is not insane, or an overstatement, to say that Williams is one of the most underrated backsstarter or backupin league history.

If you're looking for a modern comparison to what Williams has become, he's the Jimmy Garoppolo of the Steelers. Garoppolo's shoulder injury aside, the Patriots quarterback is just good enoughmore than good enough, actuallyto hold Tom Brady's place until he returns from his Deflategate suspension in a few weeks.

If you're looking for a historic parallel, Williams compares neatly to some of the all-time great reserves. He's in the same sentence with key football backups such as Earl Morrall, Kurt Warner and Steve Young. Yes, Steve Young.

Williams is filling the same role in Pittsburgh that Young did while backing up Joe Montana. With Le'Veon Bell sitting out the first three games because of missed drug tests, Williams has given the Steelers almost the same dimension that Bell did. Please note that I said almost. Williams has been that good.

He won't put Bell out of a job, but he's going to make it a damn tough decision for head coach Mike Tomlin. Far more difficult than you would ever expect.

This Steelers team is frightening, or it should be to the rest of the league. After beating Washington in the opener, it handled the Bengals on Sunday at Heinz Field, 24-16, in a game that wasn't as close as the final score would suggest.

Williams gives the Steelers depth and options on offense, and against Cincinnati, they needed them.

Antonio Brown, the Steelers' all-everything receiver, was held to four catches for 39 yards, with a long of 17, on 11 targets.

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers cannot make a catch while being defended by Karlos Dansby #56 of the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half during the game at Heinz Field on September 18, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pen
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

"How many yards did he have today?" Bengals defensive back Adam "Pacman" Jones said. "How many touchdowns? Looks like we did our job."

They did, but they forgot about someone.

The Bengals shaded extra coverage over to Brown—which every team doesand were going to let Williams beat them. If he could, the Bengals thought, good for the Steelers. And he did.

Williams had 94 yards on 32 carries. He also had four catches for 38 yards and a touchdown. He was the second-best player on the field, trailing only Roethlisberger.

Now in his 11th season, Williams is the oldest starting running back in football. He's the oldest back since Marcus Allen in 1994 to have at least 32 carries in a game. Williams also joins quite a list of runners with his performance Sunday, becoming only the sixth running back since the merger to have gained 10,000 yards from scrimmage (10,044) while averaging at least 4.7 yards per carry, joining Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson, O.J. Simpson, James Brooks and Tiki Barber, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.

Very quietlywell, not so quietlyWilliams has climbed the yardage ladder and become the impulse drive of this Steelers offense.

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 18:  DeAngelo Williams #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes against Dre Kirkpatrick #27 of the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half during the game at Heinz Field on September 18, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Ju
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Williams will sit when Bell returns after next week's game at Philadelphia, but the Steelers know that if Bell falters or fails or refuses a drug test again, the old man is there to take over.

When Williams met with the media after the win over the Bengals, he said his goal when he arrived in Pittsburgh was to make sure that when Bell took a breather, the offense would lose as little as possible.

"[Bell] is so dynamic," said Williams, "hell, I don't want him to come off the field."

Williams added, "I'm a football player first and an old guy second."

How about we amend that a little to: He's a football player first. A terrific one, second. And one of the best backups the sport has ever seen, third.

Does that work?


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.