Today, we at APC continue with our countdown of the Green Bay Packers’ best plays from the 2017 season, and we’re up to play number five on our countdown.
We’ve seen one rookie running back show up on our countdown already, as Aaron Jones’ touchdown against the New Orleans Saints came in at number seven. Today, we find fellow rookie Jamaal Williams cracking the list with a remarkable catch-and-run for a score.
Overall, I prefer Aaron Jones to Jamaal Williams as a prospect going forward due to his work on the ground and his big play ability, but let’s give it up for the big man too. While Jones busted off a number of long runs over the course of his rookie season, Williams excelled at the little things, was far superior in pass protection, and surprisingly outplayed Jones as a receiver. Part of this was simply the result of opportunities, as Williams’ pass pro chops kept him on the field on passing downs and he was adequate snagging dump-offs, but part of it was also the fact that Williams has some nimble feet, excellent balance, great vision, and above average hands. Williams caught 73.5% of his targets on the year for 10.5 yards per catch, which was a higher Y/C than Randall Cobb or Jordy Nelson. All of his skills in the passing game were on display in our #5 play of 2017.
The Packers and Steelers traded touchdowns to start the game, but on the next Pittsburgh possession Damarious Randall picked off Roethlisberger, providing the Pack with excellent field position at their own 45. Williams was stuffed on first down and Brett Hundley missed Nelson on 2nd down, setting up a 3rd and 9.
The Steelers start off in a soft nickel. No one is playing press, the outside corners are way off, and the safeties are deep. The Packers are in a slightly off formation with Lance Kendricks wide at the top of the formation, and trips right with Jordy Nelson in the slot, flanked by Cobb and Adams.
I want to start by saying that usually long touchdowns are a combination of excellent execution by the offense and a few mistakes by the defense. We certainly have a few mistakes by the defense here, but in fact the Packers are almost equally inept outside of Williams. With a few very limited exceptions, almost every Packer screws up in some way on this play, and the resulting touchdown was mostly due to effort by Williams and dumb, stupid luck.
First and foremost, Lance Kendricks runs a crossing route, taking his defender out of the play, while Williams does a great job selling a block before leaking out into the pattern. The rookie almost loses his balance and falls, which would have been disastrous, but he does a great job recovering.
Now the fun really begins. This is a screen pass, but no one involved in the “screen” portion of the play actually lays a block. Corey Linsley completely whiffs on one Steeler defender, but harmlessly pushes him in the back, and out of harm’s way.
A few seconds earlier, Lance Kendricks — who did such a fine job taking his defender across the field — runs smack dab into Jordy Nelson’s defender, knocking him down. He then did this:
Which you totally do when you haven’t just committed a penalty. Yes, the ball was still in the air when this happened.
At this point Lane Taylor throws the best block of the play, blocking the vision of 3 downfield Steelers defenders who can’t see Williams cut back to the middle of the field:
And with that, Williams is off like a shot. Nelson and Cobb briefly contemplate blocking some guys, but ultimately hold hands and decide against it.
It doesn’t really matter. Williams’ cut and burst allows him to leave everyone in the dust, including TJ Watt.
Williams did everything right on this play, selling the block, twisting for a tough catch, cutting back and accelerating for the score. As part of a 1-2 punch with Aaron Jones, you couldn’t ask for much more.
Williams’ score would give the Packers a 14-6 edge as the first quarter came to a close, but the lead didn’t last. The Packers honestly should have won this game, but some questionable play-calling by McCarthy, including a ridiculous 57-yard field goal attempt on the notoriously terrible Heinz Field turf, and some atrocious defense in the last 17 seconds led to a last second loss. It was one of the best offensive games of the Hundley era, but it wasn’t enough to beat a very good Steelers team.