As Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn prepares to find a way to knock off the Denver Broncos in Sunday’s Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., he no doubt has pulled down and dusted off an old tape to get an idea as to how to beat Peyton Manning. That tape is from Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, from when New Orleans found a way to hold Manning to one touchdown pass and hold the Colts to 17 points.
That blueprint, such as it is, was drawn up by then-Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who called a blitz at precisely the right time in the fourth quarter to hurry Manning and set up a Tracy Porter pick-six that turned a 24-17 Saints lead into the 31-17 advantage by which they ultimately won. Now, Williams is reportedly returning to the Rams, a team he was set to join two years ago but forced to leave because of Bountygate, the scandal that rocked New Orleans when it came out that Saints players had been offered bonuses for knocking opponents out of games. Both Kurt Warner of Arizona and Brett Favre of Minnesota were physically racked in games against Williams’ defense in those 2009 playoffs, and the belief was that the Saints’ bounty program motivated his players.
Overshadowed by the scandal, and what should be encouraging for Rams fans, is that Williams is a terrific coach. In 12 years as a defensive coordinator, Williams has had five units that finished as top-eight in the league in scoring defense. When Williams joined the Titans last year, Saints defensive back Jabari Greer told Titans Insider that Williams “was the best defensive coach that I’ve played for professionally.” At that point, Greer had played for four defensive coordinators, but he said, “Gregg did a great job of creating a professional approach to football. He made us accountable to each other. He really created something that we still live off of today in our defensive room. We play with a passion and we play with an intensity that is going to be unmatched.”
Former Rams and Packers safety Matt Bowen, who now writes for the Chicago Tribune, played for Williams in Washington and said, “Williams is the best coach I ever played for in my years in the NFL, a true teacher who developed me as a player. I believed in him. I still do. That will never change.” Cortland Finnegan had heard those sorts of compliments when he signed with the Rams, and he told reporters soon after Williams’ suspension that “every player you talk to says what a great coach he is. I was so excited to have a chance to play for him. He has a great defense and players love playing in that defense.”
Well, now in St. Louis, they get the chance to. A coordinator who brings swagger and attitude – someone who will have his players ready to go from day one. Last season, the Rams’ defense allowed 17, 24, 31 and 35 points in their first four games. Safe to say that they’ll be ready to rock and roll for the opener now. As Bowen wrote, “Williams is an excellent motivator. You do what he wants: play tough, push the envelope and carry a swagger that every opponent sees on tape. When you lined up against us, you knew we were coming after you. It was our gig, our plan, our way to motivate, to extra-motivate.”
Williams isn’t the perfect coordinator. While his units have been in the top eight in takeaways three times in 12 years, they’ve been in the bottom ten in that department six times, or half of his years as a coordinator, including five of his last eight as a coordinator.
That being said, there probably isn’t a better scenario available for the Rams’ defense. Williams knows Jeff Fisher’s defensive desires intimately. He shares Fisher’s desire for an aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach. And he has the ability to coach technique, while at the same time motivating the troops to a fever pitch.
It was not a good day for former Ram DC Tim Walton. He should have been told of his fate earlier. Almost every coaching job in the NFL has been filled at this point, and Walton is left standing. The music has stopped, while everyone else has a chair. For the second year in a row, the Rams are the last team to hire their defensive coordinator, and Gregg Williams will be the third one in as many years for the franchise.
But Walton knew the dangers of the coaching business when he got into it. Coaches are hired to be fired. The Rams’ defense didn’t live up to its end of the bargain in 2013, and needed an added boost. An experienced, creative defensive coordinator can only benefit this group as they try to get to the next level. It may not of have been the best way to make a change, but this is one instance in which the ends justify the means. There aren’t a lot of guys around who have coordinated Super Bowl-champion defenses, and now the Rams have one of the men who has.