Not many people believed the Baltimore Ravens were playoff contenders until about a week ago. Many still do not view them as Super Bowl contenders. Most of this had to do with a stretch of games from Weeks three through seven, where the team went 1-4. However, what nobody will mention is that in four of those games, their defensive stalwart Brandon Williams was out with a foot injury.
No one is going to bring up the Williams injury. No one is going to bring up the fact that the Ravens are 6-2 when he is on the field. They are not even going to bring up that the Ravens gave up 169 yards per game without Williams compared to just 84.3 yards per game with him in the lineup. That is essentially the same number of yards in twice the amount of games. The Ravens gave up 4.3 yards per carry in those four games. They gave up 3.6 in the eight games with Williams.
This is not a direct correlation, but Williams is a massive difference maker and one of the biggest reasons why the perception of this team is completely off base. Nobody is going to bring up Williams because he is not a star by the standards of mainstream media. When you google “Brandon Williams”, the cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals pages come up first. Williams does not put up stats. He has zero sacks and 22 tackles in eight games. He is a nose tackle, this is not a sexy position. However, Williams deserves the praise as one of the more technically sound and overall talented players in the NFL. He changes games, and his run defense is going to continue to surprise some and make the Ravens a tough out into the early months of the new year.
Brandon Williams weighs about 335 pounds. He is not going to wow you with speed. However, one of his more impressive, and obviously underrated strengths is his burst and short area quickness. Williams explodes off of the ball.
Take the play below for example. The guard, Jermon Bushrod is looking to seal off Brandon Williams on a run to the right. He is planning on pushing Williams to the left of the play. However, Williams has other plans and completely blows the play up, getting into the backfield before Bushrod even notices that Williams is not where he anticipated him to be.
Williams does this all the time. Below, Don Barclay is the victim. Again, before Barclay even has the chance to lunge for Williams, Williams is at even shoulder level and bursting into the backfield. Williams does not get credit for a tackle on this play, but he completely blew it up and forced the run outside with no possibility of cutting back.
The burst obviously comes from lower body strength, but you can also credit his precise and consistent foot work. The technicality of football is what separates him from other over powering men.
Williams makes quick, impactful steps. Like the first play, Jeremiah Sirles is looking to seal Williams off. Again, it is a hard step to take advantage of Sirles, who shuffles his feet as he looks to get good positioning on Williams. Williams blows another play up in the backfield.
Along with precise footwork, Williams is also consistent in winning with leverage, and keeping himself clean and balanced with proper hands. On the play below, Williams engages with center Nick Martin but always keeps himself clean. He gets his hands on Martin first and initiates contact by pushing him backward, winning the battle.
When he sees his chance at Lamar Miller he uses his right arm to leverage and push off of the chest of Martin towards Miller. Then, he sheds any grasp Martin has of him with his left arm and uses that to slow down the back for a small gain.
The precise hand placement helps Williams in terms of leverage. The combination of that leverage and strength is what truly makes Williams elite. Williams elite strength shows on passing plays, as he draws double teams and takes away alleys to step up. It shows in the run game as well.
The Dolphins make sure that Williams is accounted for, they have two players ready to handle him. First, it is Bushrod, who again is beaten off of the ball by Williams and shoved in the chest. While Williams is taking on Bushrod one-on-one, right tackle Ja’Wuan James comes in from behind to try to push Williams and knock him off balance to clear the hole for Jay Ajayi. Williams was having absolutely none of that, though. Watch his feet as he feels James push and plants into a squat position to hold up James and clogs the lane.
In the play below, Williams takes on a quick chip by T.J. Lang that ends up with Lang off balance and falling over, making life easy on C.J. Mosley. From there, Williams holds up Corey Robinson, sees which hole the running back, Theo Riddick chooses and tosses the right tackle aside to make the tackle.
Keeping linebackers clean
Speaking of making life easier for C.J. Mosley, that is arguably the most important part of his job and the biggest reason why this defense is so much better with him against the run. Williams consistently takes on double teams, and consistently wins the push up front, giving his linebackers the chance to step into holes free.
Below, Williams is getting taken out of the play. However, he uses his strength to push Riley Reiff into the backfield to throw the pulling guard, 61, Joe Berger off his route enough to where he misses C.J. Mosley on the block. Williams helps Mosley get into the backfield untouched.
The picture below is all you need to see to understand the influence of Williams. Along with his teammate Willie Henry, who is having a phenomenal season as well, the two combine to take up four blockers on this run play. Neither is able to lose ground, and none of the linemen are able to break free from this battle to get to the second level.
As the two defenders push the lineman towards the middle of the field, Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor are in the second level to fill the two holes that were created by the double team. This resulted in a C.J. Mosley tackle for loss.
These are not Sports Center Top Ten plays (if that is still a thing?). Half of the time, the best of Brandon Williams does not even show up on his individual stat sheet. However, he shows up on the team box score. As the weather gets rough, and we begin to see the physicality of playoff football, run defense becomes more important than ever. The underrated impact of Williams is one of the big reasons why the Ravens continue to surprise some as they make a push into the playoffs.