It's both easy and difficult to overlook Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams, even though he's a Pro Bowler. Difficult because he's a hulkish 336-pound man. Easy because he plays one of the game's most overlooked positions.
But Williams was hard to miss during Sunday's 30-16 win in Seattle, in which logged a season-high four tackles and had two quarterback hits on Russell Wilson. The Seahawks, who entered the game as one of the top rushing teams in the league, ran the ball 26 times for 106 yards.
"Brandon Williams, I thought, played his best game as a Raven in a long time, since I've been here," said Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen, who came to Baltimore in 2016.
"He gave us some really good push up the middle and hits on Russell there when we needed it the most. At times he got beat, but he did a great job finding a way to get off blocks, bottling up the run game and getting to the ball."
The Ravens need Williams to be a huge part of their defense. He's in the third year of a big contract he signed in 2017 and counting for more than $14 million against the salary cap this year, according to Spotrac.
Baltimore certainly felt the impact when he wasn't on the field against the Cleveland Browns in Week 4. The Browns ran for 193 yards and an 88-yard touchdown by Nick Chubb was a dagger to the Ravens' chances of mounting a comeback win.
Williams returned the week after and the Ravens have largely shut down three excellent runners since then: Pittsburgh's James Conner, Cincinnati's Joe Mixon and Seattle's Chris Carson.
But what Cullen was most impressed with was Williams' interior pass rush. The Ravens have had trouble getting pressure with their down linemen this season, and if Williams can continue to deliver in that area, it would be a huge boost and help the outside rushers as well.
Williams had a "flurry" of good pass rushes in Seattle when he hit a few good moves in a row. The Ravens want to see more of that.
"Brandon is as good as they get in terms of stopping the run, but [his pass rush is] a dimension that we'd like to see him improve on and I think we can," Cullen said. "We needed it in a big way Sunday and he delivered."
Bradley Bozeman Has Solidified the Left Guard Spot
The starting position most up for grabs entering the season was at left guard. Even when the Ravens settled on Bradley Bozeman, they made it clear that Bozeman didn't have it locked up. The competition would be ongoing.
Since then, however, Bozeman has quietly and effectively left no second-guessing.
"I think Bradley has done a heck of a job. One heck of a job," Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris said. "You look at the people he's had to block from Week 1 to last weekend. … He's had the top inside people and has done one heck of a job.
Bozeman blocked the Chiefs' Chris Jones, Browns' Sheldon Richardson, Steelers' Cameron Hayward, Bengals' Geno Atkins and Seahawks' Jarran Reed. Last season, those five players combined for 41.5 sacks. They had a combined one sack against the Ravens so far this year.
"I've seen nothing but good growth," D'Alessandris said. "He's improved as a puller, he's improved as a good pass protector."
How Jimmy Smith's Return Will Affect Cornerback Rotation
Jimmy Smith is expected to return to the field after the bye, just in time to face the currently undefeated New England Patriots.
Suddenly, the depth the Ravens envisioned at cornerback as they entered the year will finally come to fruition with Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr and new addition Marcus Peters. That's a tricky game of pick-your-poison for opposing offenses.
But how do the Ravens plan to utilize all their weapons?
"In the NFL, it's all about matchups and how you use your tools or the fire power that you have," Defensive Backs Coach Chris Hewitt said. "Being able to get the guys on the right person, and being able to match those guys up against a particular wide receiver, where we have to take this guy out of the game, or a particular tight end that's giving us trouble."
The Patriots are known for exploiting one-on-one matchups, but they'll have a hard time finding a weak spot in Baltimore's secondary.
Hewitt said Humphrey is "absolutely" playing at a Pro Bowl level and Peters will bring "picks, picks, picks, and more picks."
Why Patrick Onwuasor Is Better at Weakside Linebacker
While Smith and Marquise Brown's return after the bye will make waves, Patrick Onwuasor's comeback shouldn't be overlooked.
Onwuasor switched back to weakside linebacker with the arrival of Josh Bynes before the Pittsburgh game, but suffered a high ankle sprain halfway through. Bynes gutted it out in that game because he was wearing the green dot communication helmet, but has missed the past two weeks.
L.J. Fort has played extremely well next to Bynes in the middle, but Onwuasor's return will further strengthen that unit and add more playmaking potential. Don't forget, Onwuasor had 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
"I think it's just more natural [for him]," Linebackers Coach Mike Macdonald said. "When you're over there, you're a little bit more on the edge of the defense. There's a little bit more blitzing involved and he's a great blitzer. So you're really asking him to do the things that he's naturally really gifted at doing – using his length and that sort of thing."
The Ravens will likely continue to use a three-man rotation at inside linebacker, especially considering they'll need all three to contribute heavily on special teams as well. Macdonald said he wants Bynes to be more in the range of 30-40 reps per game.
Macdonald also said Chris Board, who seemed to be in line for a starting role over the summer, did get set back by a preseason concussion. Board has been practicing well, Macdonald said.
Earl Thomas Isn't Making Mistakes
There was some chatter earlier this season when the Ravens' defense had a couple tough games and busted coverages that new Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas III was part of the problem.
Part of that was because Thomas candidly talked about the challenge of picking up the Ravens' complex defense after leaving Seattle. It was the easy narrative. It was a false narrative, however.
"There was a lot of talk out there, like he's been making mistakes or whatever. But the first seven games now, he hasn't busted any coverages," Hewitt said.
"When he talks about his comfort level, it's just about him being able to go out there and play free [safety]. But he hasn't busted any coverages. He's playing good football."