When facing the Steelers offense, it’s a game of pick your poison.
The Steelers have the league’s leading wide receiver, Antonio Brown, and leading running back, Le’Veon Bell. In any given game, Pittsburgh can rely on either of them.
The last time the Ravens and Steelers faced off in Week 4 at M&T Bank Stadium, Pittsburgh went with the ground attack. Bell ran the ball 35 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Roethlisberger, meanwhile, threw the ball 30 times.
But there’s a big asterisk with that last battle. Ravens big man Brandon Williams wasn’t on the field.
Williams sat last time because of a foot injury, and the Ravens run defense struggled as a result. Now he’s back, and he’s helped restore Baltimore’s run-stopping reputation in the process.
Heading into Sunday night’s game in Pittsburgh, the Ravens believe Williams should make a big difference this time around.
“If you are going to run the Kentucky Derby, you want your biggest horse in the race. You don’t want him in the stable,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said.
“Brandon Williams, being one of the best interior linemen in the NFL, especially going against one of the premier backs and the premier rushing offenses in the league … You definitely want one of your best interior linemen, so we get him back this week, and we are going to see how it plays out.”
The Ravens surrendered an average of 170 rushing yards per game while Williams was sidelined earlier this year. Since he’s been back at full strength in Week 8, the Ravens have allowed just 67 rushing yards per game, which is the second-best mark in the league.
“He makes a huge difference. That guy controls the block; he’s the centerpiece,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “Teams were kind of gashing us for those few games. We made it a really big point of emphasis. Think of Ravens defense. The one thing they don’t do is let people run on us.”
Williams said it was a struggle watching his team take on the Steelers and have trouble containing Bell in their last meeting. Williams injured his foot in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens were also still trying to figure out who their starting defensive end would be when the Steelers came to town. Brent Urban went down in Week 3 in London, and Bronson Kaufusi got the start against Pittsburgh. Kaufusi was replaced by rookie Chris Wormley, who was replaced by Willie Henry.
“It means the world to me to be in this one,” Williams said. “I can contribute. I’ll be out there competing and grinding with my guys, helping my brothers get the job done.”
Bell hasn’t had a 100-yard game since Week 7 when he went off for 134 against the rival Cincinnati Bengals. Still, he leads the league in rushing yards (1,057) and is a dangerous pass-catching weapon out of the backfield (66 receptions, 502 yards).
“He’s one of those guys where, if you let him, he can wreck a game,” Williams said. “You definitely have to give him his props, but at the same time go out there and execute the play.”
While Williams’ presence in the middle will make a big difference, where the Ravens mostly were gashed on the edges of their defense. The Steelers hit them with some different run schemes they weren’t expecting.
“Brandon can definitely penetrate, and it definitely takes more than one guy to block him,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “But one of the big things in the first game was we didn’t do a good job setting the edge and they had some good schemed runs to the outside. So we have to protect that.”