OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens' run defense has never been lower, three days removed from allowing the most yards on the ground in franchise history and falling to an unthinkable ranking of No. 30 in the NFL.
Now comes the long-awaited return of defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who was back on the practice field Wednesday after missing four games with a foot injury. It's the same Williams who recently posted a "Tombstone"-inspired tweet that proclaimed he was coming back and "Hell's coming with me."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh cracked a smile in announcing Williams would be suiting up. Teammates felt a boost of confidence with, as cornerback Jimmy Smith called him, their "50 million man" back in the middle of the defense.
Williams, though, backed away from the label of being the savior of Baltimore's run defense.
"I’m just a guy," Williams said. "I’m just a guy who is working to get back on the field. That is all I’m doing."
Williams' availability for Sunday's game at the Minnesota Vikings will be based on how he practices throughout the week, according to Harbaugh. Williams was a full participant Wednesday, which is an indication that he'll lead the charge in getting the once-proud run defense back on track.
In two games with Williams, Baltimore ranked in the top 10, holding teams to 85 yards rushing per game. In four games without him, the Ravens have given up the most rushing yards in the NFL (169.5 per game).
"We always believe in the next man up, but this machine has working parts to it, and you need all of your parts," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "It’s always great to have one of the best interior linemen back on the team."
As the rushing yards have increased, so has the appreciation for Williams. Even those who initially criticized the Ravens giving Williams a five-year, $52.5 million deal will find it difficult to debate his importance now.
During Williams' absence, teams ran for 429 yards between the tackles, the sixth-most during that span. Opponents also scored an NFL-high four touchdowns in the red zone against Baltimore.
But in order to become a dominant run defense again, defensive linemen have to get off blocks, the outside linebackers have to set the edge and defensive backs have to wrap up and make tackles.
"I think he's a part of the answer," nose tackle Michael Pierce said. "Everybody should be accountable for their gap integrity each and every play. You just see leaks here and there from myself and everybody on the defense. It's a big help but, at the end of the day, everybody has to be accountable."
Stopping the run has been more than a priority for Baltimore. It's been the Ravens' identity.
In the franchise's 21 years, the Ravens run defense has ranked in the top half of the NFL 18 times and in the top five 11 times, including last season.
The Ravens now find themselves near the bottom of the league after allowing 231 yards rushing to the Chicago Bears last Sunday, and are on pace to be the team's worst defense in shutting down the run. Baltimore is projected give up 2,261 yards rushing, which would be 341 yards more than any other season.
The expectations are different with Williams absorbing double-teams and closing down any lanes.
"I am just prepared to get out there and do what I do best, which is stop the run, get after the passer and push the pocket," Williams said. "I don’t feel any weight on my shoulders, but I am urging myself to get out there."