The Indianapolis Colts have had so many unheralded players rise to the occasion in 2019. Zach Pascal has seemingly gone from a specialist who is listed as the sixth receiver to a solid starter in this league overnight. Rookie Marvell Tell has been excellent starting in place of injured Pierre Desir as he has made the transition from college safety to NFL corner look easy. Even Grover Stewart has carved out a really nice role as a starting two-down defensive tackle for this team. The most surprising and dominant performance from a bottom-of-the-roster player though has to be running back Jonathan Williams on Sunday.
A former fifth-round pick from Arkansas, Williams hasn’t had much run in the NFL. He has been on this Colts’ roster for nearly a year now but has rarely been active on game day. With an injury to Jordan Wilkins (and Marlon Mack in the third quarter), Williams showed just how talented he is. He finished the day with 14 touches for 147 yards in an utterly dominant performance on the ground. In today’s film room, we are going to look at just how great this young running back was on Sunday.
Before we highlight Williams on this play, let’s take a second to admire both the play call and the blocking up front by the offensive line. This is a beautiful concept by Head Coach Frank Reich as he motions Nyheim Hines out of the backfield to get the defense moving then runs a zone rush out of the shotgun to the left. The offensive line makes this play happen though as everyone up front takes care of their assignment (with Quenton Nelson leveling a cornerback as well). Williams follows his blocks perfectly and quickly gets upfield. He jump-cuts around the block of Nelson and makes a few defenders miss for the big gain. Also, note how well he finishes this run as he powers through three defenders and falls forward on the play.
This next clip was perhaps the biggest of the game, and Williams wasn’t even supposed to be on the field. On a third and 19 play early in the third quarter, the Colts drew up a screen pass to running back Nyheim Hines. Due to a miscommunication though, Williams was out there instead of Hines. The miscommunication ended up working out though as Williams takes the screen pass and follows his blockers for the big 31 yard gain to turn the tide of the game. This was an absolutely huge play that shifted the momentum of the entire game. Excellent job by Williams here to find the crease and get upfield for the first.
The greatest attribute in Williams’ game is the power he runs with and his ability to continually drive his legs even when he is contacted. This next clip is a perfect example of this. Inside the redzone, he quickly diagnoses the hole and plants his foot to get upfield. Once he is contacted in the hole by a linebacker, he drops his shoulders and drives his legs. While the contact is made maybe one to two yards downfield, he is able to turn this into an eight-yard gain due to his strength and leg drive. He pulls multiple defenders forward to set up a Colts score later in the drive. Great violent running by Williams here and this is exactly how all running backs should finish their runs.
Speaking of leg drive, let’s highlight it a bit here with this next clip. Continually driving your legs as a running back is taught at every level of football for a reason, it works. While it may not be flashy and worthy of the highlight reel, it gets the job done and helps put the team in better field position in the end. Williams was constantly driving his legs in this game as he refused to go down on first contact. He initially gets stonewalled into his own lineman’s back at the line but this doesn’t end the play here. He drives his legs and pushes his lineman forward en route to a nice six-yard gain on the play. Again, nothing flashy here but a good leg drive turns this one-yard gain into a six-yard gain.
While the dirty work is fine, it’s nothing like the highlight reel plays. This next clip right here is YouTube highlight reel material. A beautiful play call with a backside wham block by tight end Mo Alie-Cox, Williams turns a good play call into a huge gain. He hits the hole quickly and keeps his center of gravity close to the ground. He reads this play perfectly too as he hits the hole right when the backside pursuit linebacker over commits to the outside. He runs through that weak tackle and makes his way to the third level. He sidesteps yet another block before putting a great stiff arm on a defender that even Marlon Mack can appreciate. After that, it’s off to the races as he makes his way downfield for the 48 yard gain. What an outstanding play by the Colts’ fourth-string running back to blow this game wide open and start the route.
The Colts were just asserting their dominance all day in this one as this run is almost solely on the offensive line. The call is a simple sweep play to the outside and the play is blocked perfectly by the dominant offensive line. Ryan Kelly and Jack Doyle make great blocks in space and Nelson yet again throws his player to the ground. Just dominant all day long up front. Williams does a great job of getting upfield but this play is all offensive line. One thing to note is that Williams does slide to avoid a hit at the end of the run here. This is just speculation but I think this was a coaching decision to tell him to do this since he was one of only two healthy backs left a blowout fourth quarter. It would make sense too because the runner we see in the early clips would never shy away from contact.
The final clip in today’s film room is yet another very good run from this excellent running back. He slides through the hole and follows his blockers to the second level. He then lowers his shoulder and barrels through two defenders before spinning his way forward for an eight-yard gain. All in all, this was an outstanding performance by a player nobody had on their radar. Chris Ballard has not been shy in throwing praise to Williams and it finally paid off in a big way on Sunday. Great, great game by this underrated running back.
What a great game from Jonathan Williams. He was always a player that I was very high on but this was even better than what I expected with him on the field. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to interview Jonathan and talk with him in person at Training Camp so this performance was absolutely incredible to watch for me personally.
Going forward, Williams will be expected to take on a much bigger role with the injury to Marlon Mack. With the return of Jordan Wilkins (career 5.8 yards per carry) next week and the steady presence of Nyheim Hines (667 yards receiving in his career), the Colts should still have a very capable backfield with Mack out. If Williams can keep up his performance from this past Sunday, the Colts will be in good hands.