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Ravens Defense Will Have to Deal With Leonard Fournette Without Top Run Stuffer

Posted Sep 22, 2017

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams has been ruled out for Sunday's game because of a foot injury. Second-year nose tackle Michael Pierce will have to fill his void.

Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb joked this week that if he sees big-bodied Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette bearing down on him, he will hit him.

“Hopefully, Brandon [Williams] will get him first,” Webb said with a laugh.

With Williams not making the trip to London and being ruled out for Sunday’s game in London, Webb and the Ravens won’t have Williams to eat up blockers and tackles. It’s not good timing with Fournette and the Jags’ rushing attack looming.

The rookie fourth-overall pick ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing yards (140) through the first two weeks. He’s tied for second in the NFL in touches. Now he will test how well Baltimore can stop the run without its big guy Williams in the middle.

“He is one of the running backs of the future of this league,” veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “He is probably one of the backs of right now. He is a very hard, downhill runner. It definitely is going to take a lot of helmets to get the guy down.”

Fournette is 6-foot-0, 228 pounds. If he doesn’t win with power, he has the speed to run away from defenders. He ran 26 times for 100 yards and a touchdown against the Houston Texans’ stout defensive front.

Last week, Fournette was held to 40 yards on 14 carries, though he again scored a touchdown, against the Tennessee Titans. The Titans took an early lead against Jacksonville, which meant the Jags had to shift its offensive workload away from Fournette, who isn’t used much as a receiver.

“He is 240-plus pounds, and he’s fast, and he runs with a little bit of an attitude,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “They have two great running backs. Chris Ivory is another one. They have two of the best running backs that you are going to find, young guys.”

Ivory is another bulldozer at 6-foot-0, 223 pounds. He has 59 yards on 15 carries so far this season.

“This is a very powerful running team; they have a great running game,” Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said. “They have two starters.”

So who will stop them?

“We play defense together around here,” Suggs said. “It has always been an 11-man job. That is always how it has been around here, and that is how it is going to continue to be.”

Carl Davis entered for Williams after he suffered the foot injury against the Cleveland Browns. Davis, a third-round pick just like Williams, played well, including notching a tackle for loss. Davis has three starts in his first three seasons with 13 tackles overall.

The Ravens also have Willie Henry, who has been inactive, and fullback/defensive lineman Patrick Ricard. Defensive ends Bronson Kaufusi and rookie Chris Wormley have also been inactive the first two games.

The main big man who will be called upon is Michael Pierce, who teamed up with Williams to help give the Ravens the league’s fifth-best run defense last year.

“Just being the bell-cow now, I’m going to play a lot more snaps now that he’s out,” Pierce said. “I need to be on my keys and play as well as he did these first couple games and the years he’s played here. It’s time to step up and be that leader he was, not by words, but by just playing well.”

Pierce has five tackles and one sack so far this season. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Williams has been the Ravens’ best overall defender this year (plus-6.2) and Pierce is second (plus-4.5). They both grade very high against the run.

“We said coming in that we thought he had a really good year last year [and] expected even bigger things from him this year; he has not disappointed,” Pees said of Pierce. “Michael holds his own in there, just like Brandon.”

Please Note

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