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The Mystery of Ty’Son Williams

Ty'Son Williams
Photo Credit: Getty Images
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Ty’Son Has Become The Forgotten Man

In his media availability period Monday afternoon, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was asked what Ty’Son Williams can do to earn more opportunities following Thursday night’s loss in Miami where Williams logged zero offensive snaps.

“If you’re a running back, you need to run hard,” Harbaugh said. “You need to break tackles, you need to get yards, you need to pass protect, you need to run the right route out of the backfield, catch the ball and get up field. If you’re in the rotation, special teams sure would help you.”

If you’re active on social media, you surely saw the instant reaction the response elicited from fans. Many, obviously, were not happy with the answer. They’re the same bunch that has been frustrated week to week as Ty’Son’s playing time has shrunk from a lead role to a healthy scratch.

When he was the lead back, Williams lived up to the preseason hype. In weeks one and two combined, he totaled 143 rushing yards on 22 attempts (6.5 yards per carry) with one rushing touchdown and 45 receiving yards on five catches (six targets). Since then, he has just 11 attempts for 38 yards (3.5 YPC), 39 receiving yards on four catches and no touchdowns. His snap count percentage week to week has gone from 51 percent, 49 percent and 50 percent weeks one through three to inactive, 18 percent and zero percent in the Ravens’ last three games. He’s been completely phased out of the offense since the bye, with zero touches since the week off.

It was a sudden and steep fall from potential stardom to complete afterthought, one that leaves many that don’t get a behind-the-scenes look at the situation questioning what the heck happened. 

Dissecting the Harbaugh Quote 

“You need to run hard…”

This is a tricky one to break down. There are certainly runs where Ty’Son looks like he’s doing what Harbaugh is asking, then others where he’s not. The play that immediately comes to mind was his first and only touchdown this season back in Week 1. The Ravens’ running back room misses this explosiveness.

And we all remember this nice touchdown run from the preseason.

But then there are times where he hasn’t done what his coach outlined. Here, Williams gets a nice 12-yard gain against Detroit, but the offensive line does all the work as Ty’Son is untouched for almost the whole play. Instead of hitting the hole hard, he looks scared and jittery as he runs. He needs to hit this hole with force.

Harbaugh has said in the past he hasn’t liked the way Williams runs. This must be what he means.

“You need to break tackles…”

This is definitely one area Williams can improve upon. He has just one broken tackle on the year and only 2.5 yards after contact per attempt. His 33 attempts per broken tackle is ninth worst among running backs league wide and the 2.5 YAC/A ranks behind several quarterbacks and wide receivers.

He sits squarely behind Latavius Murray (5) and Le’Veon Bell (3) in broken tackles and is tied with Devonta Freeman with one. Showing more of an ability to be slippery and do more after contact would certainly earn him some more bump. 

“You need to get yards…”

Not really sure what Harbaugh means by this. Looking at yards per carry, Williams was leading the team and among the league leaders in that category after Week 2 back when his touches were in the double digits. Since then, his YPC is well below average. He’s shown when he gets the chance he can “get yards”. When his chances go down, so do the yards.

“You need to pass protect…” 

Pass protection has been the loudest of the criticisms surrounding Ty’Son. It’s what many focus on as the reason for his fall down the depth chart. There are definitely some examples of poor pass blocking reps, but there are also times when he’s just fine at it. The most obvious miscue came on Lamar Jackson’s sack fumble in overtime against the Raiders. Alejandro Villanueva certainly is to blame for Carl Nassib’s pressure, but it was a poor effort from Williams during his attempt to slow down Nassib.

Still, it’s not all bad. Check out the last play of this cut up for a perfect pass protection rep (the first two plays of the cut up are cool too).

I think the pass protection argument is an overstated one. Maybe it’s a reason for his lack of opportunity, but it’s not the main one. 

“You need to run the right route, catch the ball and get upfield”

Catching the ball has come easy for Williams, who has caught nine of his 11 targets this season. After going back to watch each of his receptions, I didn’t get the sense that he struggled to get upfield after the catch either. Ty’Son averages the most yards per catch of any of the running backs and has just two fewer receiving yards than Freeman on five fewer targets. None of the Ravens’ RBs are huge threats as a pass catcher out of the backfield, but Williams certainly isn’t a liability in that regard. 

“… special teams sure would help”

Special teams is a big point of emphasis for any Harbaugh-coached team, and it’s a way for players on the fringe of the roster at their respective positions to latch on and carve out a role. Williams played six special teams snaps last Thursday in Miami, his first time seeing the field as a special teamer this season. Continuing to contribute on special teams will be huge in keeping him active on game days and in the running back rotation, and it keeps his path to more offensive opportunities open.

Where it Went Right

Williams’ bright spots are easy to point out. Through two weeks, he was top five league wide in yards per carry and is still 10th even after his recent shortcomings. His explosiveness and speed is far better than his competition and it’s been missed without J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards.

His abilities are unlike any of the other backs. The Ravens offense has missed a runner that can threaten the edge with speed, but the other stuff will has to be cleaned up before Ty’Son will get a chance to show he can do that. 

[Related Article: Ravens Atop AFC North]

Where it Went Wrong

The fumbling is clearly an issue that Harbaugh does not take likely. He’s only fumbled twice in live action and both were recovered, but sooner or later one of those will be costly. We also heard of some fumbling concerns with Williams back in training camp and saw some issues at the mesh point with him and Jackson to begin the year, although that hasn’t been an issue lately. Two fumbles in 33 carries is simply too much to tolerate from a featured back.

Another weakness of Williams has been how well he attacks running lanes opened up to him. Too often he doesn’t attack the hole at full speed, or he fails to recognize a cut back opportunity that could be a big gain.

Like previously mentioned, the pass protection has been up and down, but it feels like an overstated issue. The only legitimate issue Ty’Son has shown that has film and evidence to back it up is the ball security, and it’s probably what’s keeping him off the field more than anything else. 

What’s Ahead?

In the end, I think fans like the idea of Ty’Son Williams more than they like the player. They like the idea of the undrafted free agent emerging from nowhere to take over an injury riddled running back group. They refuse to believe that he might just have some things to work on and that some of the other running backs might just be better than him right now. I’m definitely guilty of it too. Remember…as fans we can only see what happens in games. We aren’t present in practices or meetings. Who knows what could be happening at practice every day.

However much we may clamor for it, the path for Williams to work his way back into a lead role is unlikely, but, as we’ve discovered, the path does exist.

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